Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Share #5: Pot Roast with Some of My Extended Surrogate Family

Kathleen and Lee are housesitting 10 blocks from where I am house-sitting and invited Scott and me to dinner. Kathleen is a gourmand. I don't remember a dinner with her that wasn't particularly savory, hearty and plentiful, to the extent that it warranted photographs and some stomach rumbling and some long gazing before at last sitting down to eat. Luckily, Lee is a photographer so many of her meals have been captured for posterity. We accepted, of course.

Kathleen made a pot roast with potatoes, carrots, onions and foraged mushroom in her new crock pot. Perfectly cooked. There was gravy, a green salad and beer. I offered a half loaf of dark Desem bread from Tall Grass.

There were pleasant distractions during dinner. Lee told stories. Kathleen talked about the book she was reading. The doggies were there, scurrying through the house avoiding the new kitten intent on hunting them. And, though less pleasant, I struggled to breath without coughing. I have the cold that's going around. In spite of this, I did my best to be present for and savor the meal. Seconds. O yes!

Outside of the very few times I have followed a recipe and made a fancy meal or put efforts into a special event, cooking was never my thing. Some years ago, having been required to give it some thought by a disgruntled boyfriend, I came to realize the kitchen is, for me, a hostile, stressful place. For many it is, I think, a warm, safe place. I still enjoy providing for others and like cooking for myself, but when I cook in the company of others, I'm often occupied r unavailable and am easily upset. Realizing this has helped me avoid some stress in relationships, but I still get in trouble as was evidenced by my time in the kitchen with my mother this spring and summer. O I got a healthy dose.

How is it that I still love good food, am still a romantic about freshly baked bread, fruit off the tree, grapes from the vine? And why do I long for fresh produce from the farmer's market? I can easily taste the difference in value--physical, emotional and spiritual--between store bought food and farm fresh food, between frozen, packaged, processed foods and local, organic, real foods. Why then do I not make more of an effort to eat in a way that is nourishing?

Thirteen years ago, I met a man named Antonio who invited me to dinner every night for many days. Every night I accepted and we sat on his boat with a glass of boxed wine and a plate of aperitif (nuts, olives, sardines, crackers) followed by a meal of pasta with long simmered sauce or fresh caught tuna in a cold salad and then sat talking below or above decks, in community. Rarely have I had this, wanted this, been drawn into it, a meal with community, readily given, hungrily accepted, a living sense of family.

It's been a long time since I've had regular access to a kitchen, but that's not enough of an excuse. Kathleen has no more access to a kitchen than I and makes great efforts to plan and execute meals, and does. How much of an obstacle is my instability, my transience, my continual desire to purge? How is this purging any different from any other? Why is my mind so skinny?

I want to spend my efforts elsewhere. But then, I want to share the meal. I want the company. I want the deep connection, the nourishment community brings. I have the desire to offer this to others. I don't think it's a case of admiring those who make the effort. It's more of a fantasy about the time when I, myself, will (choose to) live this life, make this effort, prepare this meals, harvest this garden, spices in my drawers, condiments for every occasion, a system of heating, cooling and storing that works and a community to share it with. What kind of reconciliation will this take?

Perhaps this is just another version of the search for home--love, community, relationship? But perhaps community requires just a bit more stability than I currently have?

It is not only the homeless who lack community. There are many people, in little and large homes, without community. How does the nomad, the world traveler, fulfill her need for community? Last year I experienced a loose, but palpable sense of community on the Pacific Crest Trail and was all alone and covering many miles a day. What makes a person plan a meal with care? Approach another person? Sit with them? Open up? Are we not all born with a care-giving gene that sharpens sense of our connection between good food and mental health?

Why do I have the urge to make bread? To make soup? To make cream-based sauces? To use a pressure cooker? I don't do any of these things. I could learn to do them, but my focus has been elsewhere. What am I saying, that I wish I cared? That I wish my caregiver was more creative? I'm creative in other realms. Why not there, in the kitchen, where it counts? Or was my culinary creativity discouraged at a young age? Has it, because of this, over time, atrophied? Or is it just a dis-inclination of mine? Or not a big deal? It feels like a big deal. Food. Nourishment. Health. Home. It feels big.

I remember reading about the French paradox in an article one day. It called into question the link between a high fat diet and heart disease. It revealed a surprisingly lower incidence of heart disease correlating to a higher consumption of saturated fat across Europe. Why then, in the U.S., is there a higher incidence of heart disease with the same amount of fat? Is  lifestyle, they asked, a contributing factor? How we eat? When we eat? With whom? Under what stress? After what amount of sleep? The connection made perfect sense to me and is why I now begin every meal with a pause and gratitude.

I love butter. I love bacon. I love simple meals, where everything is separate one plate and cooked up whole. One, two, three ingredients. I cook and eat quickly so as to get back to work quickly. I work long hours. I have an erratic schedule. I get into food habits. I eat the same thing over and over. Hot cereal with butter and brown sugar is a current affair, but not since starting My Share. Who will eat breakfast with me? Now that I'm alone I am without this nourishment. Since beginning My Share, I have missed my hot cereal every day and that feels significant because it is my only current routine. This leaves me with no routine.

I am remembering seeing signs for Community Dinners when I was living in Fremont. Though curious, I never got around to attending one. I remember seeing those same signs in different parts of the city. Who put the dinner on? Who attended them? Now that I've done a little bit of research, I see that Community Dinners hosts one dinner every night in a different part of the city. They are described online as "dinner churches, modeled after the Agape Feasts of the first century." Now that I need this service, a place and people with whom to share, I may, at last, be taking part.

Ah, but tonight I am blessed with Scott's mother, Kathleen, and her partner, Lee, who came to my aid this summer. When everything was falling apart (the apartment I'd been working on for months with Scottie and had brought my mother across the country to live with me in), they were my safety net and helped me fill in the gaps, though it wasn't particularly easy for anyone involved. For that, I am eternally grateful.

It was they who I called when I got into my bike accident. They were living close to where I'd crashed and I thought maybe, with their help, I could avoid the ambulance ride, but the bystanders and firefighters and police convinced me to take the ambulance ride, which didn't seem to matter in the end. After being triaged, I was wheeled into the waiting room and sat there for hours swelling in the face and lip and neck. I didn't mean for them to, but they came to the ER anyway to be my advocates, to sit with me til Scottie came to relieve them for the next 9 hours until I was released.

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