Thursday, April 16, 2009


Food. What a word! Layers and layers of meaning and memory wrap themselves up in that simple four-letter word.

Something prompted me to start making a big pot of lentil stew this afternoon. I started very simply, throwing a couple cupfuls of dry lentils into some water in a large pot, and setting the pot on the stovetop to simmer gently. After a while, other chores distracted me and I forgot about the lentils until a wonderful warm aroma reminded me.

The aroma reminded me of many things. Coming in from a long bicycle ride, hands stiff with cold, the kitchen steamy and smelling of lovely, nourishing things cooking. The quick flip of the edge of a large, flat, grassy woven basket held in graceful brown hands sending curling waves of grain into the sunshine, a breath of dust and chaff falling away from the crest of the wave of grain as it settles down again, swirling, back onto the basket. The background chatter of women's voices, women who are my life, whom I love, my mother, my aunts, talking and laughing, as they slap dough down, then the quick thud thud thud of their rolling pins shaping the dough into the little round skins of karjalan piirakka. The hot yeasty smell of freshly baked bread as it comes out of the oven.

And I thought, I will add some carrots, celery, bay leaf, and onions to my lentils, then I will see if I have the "fixins" to make bread.

Ah! Fresh, home-baked bread. That is an experience I haven't treated myself to for far too long.

Why? Why am I too busy to slow down and do this simple, nourishing thing for myself?

I've used the excuse that I'm too busy. I've used the excuse that I would then just over-indulge and over-eat what I've made. I've used the excuse that there is no one with whom to share what I've cooked. I've used the excuse that there isn't room in the tiny freezer compartment of my apartment-sized fridge to hold the excess.

However, when I smelled my lentil stew cooking on the stove, I realized that I should have given myself this gift long ago. I deserve, no I need and have longed for the hands-on, sensual experience of slow food, the multi-sensory meditation of making a simple meal for myself, with my own hands, using basic ingredients.

I am busy. As well as working full-time at my paying job, I try to fit in a yoga practice and all the miles of running required in my training for my first upcoming full marathon race. I try to have a balanced social life as well, to stay connected to my family and friends. Over the last few weeks I felt like I was spinning my wheels faster and faster, becoming more and more disconnected even as I struggled to stay grounded.

I pass by our little garden in front of my building, chafing at the lack of time to tidy up the squirrel-tossed plants, to water, to mulch the dry soil there.

I'm sure you have felt that way too. Suddenly the bottom seems to fall out and you find yourself looking at yourself in the mirror and crying for no reason. Nothing seems solid. Your family and friends are there, but you are incapable of feeling their care and presence. I suddenly realized I was starving.

I woke up from a dream this morning of a small garden in the sunshine, filled with the smell of sunshine on springtime lawns waking up, of crocus, early irises, daffodils and jonquils. I could smell the earth. I could smell the softness of springtime air. And in my dream, I felt in my body the satisfaction of seeing the green things coming up and of having worked in the garden as I entered the kitchen of a small house I once lived in, and again another familiar smell, the smell of sun-heated dust motes dancing in front of a window.

I've been starving for the sensory hands-on experiences of gardens and food. In my mind, they are entwined inseparably. Small cuttings sit in a jar atop my fridge, after all, hopeful twigs that in my mind are a large winged burning bush (Euonymus alata), a pyramidal English oak (Quercus robur), and purple-leaved smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria).

I added some heat to my stew with a generous spoonful of berbere and tomato paste. It is going to be soooo tasty and warming. All I lack is some injera. However, I don't have any tef on hand, nor do I actually know how to make injera, so instead, I'm going to leave you now to bake myself a loaf of multigrain bread.

You must envy me. I'll soon be enjoying a slice of fresh bread with butter with a large bowl of hot and spicy lentil stew sprinkled with some chopped fresh cilantro.



Blogger Randa said...

A lovely post, Kati, and one to which I can completely relate. I, too, need to have those grounding connections with good food I have prepared; with interactions with people I love and who love me; with the goodness of the earth and things that grow.

I hope your stew and bread fed you in all the ways you needed right then.

7:55 a.m.  

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