What are You Hungry For?
When you trace the days back, skip over calendar squares like spaces on a game board, reversing: events, choices, moments, does it overwhelm you? Do you look back to a month, three months, seven, a year ago and pause for a moment, wondering what the hell happened?
It’s a dizzying spiral that can, too often, lead down a rabbit hole, rehashing events we can’t do anything to change, but somehow find the need to comb through endlessly.
Lying in bed, mowing the giant lawn, working around the house, my thoughts slip easily into this well-worn groove, like tires into a rut. The past whispers, and soon I feel the tight, familiar ache in my jaw, as I begin to clench. Sadness, anxiety, twist in my chest.
I take a deep breath. Work to close the lid over my Pandora’s Box of worries I can’t change right now, or ever.
I’m used to cooking for another human every day. I find inspiration in their tastes, the mood, and what we’re craving.
“What are you hungry for?” Is, it seems, a much more interesting question to ask other people, but not so much yourself. These days, my answer to myself is usually, “rice pudding.” I go to the container in the fridge, dump on some nutmeg and cinnamon and plop/lean, eating wherever I am in the house. When I’m sufficiently shocked at how much rice pudding I’ve consumed, again, in one sitting, I return container to fridge.
I’ve analyzed my reliance on the side-food group “Pudding” and I think it hearkens back to comfort food of my childhood.
Grandma Betty Harkness made my sister and me the most delicious rice/vanilla puddings. We got to eat them from her company-special, cut green glass goblets. Our spoons clinked against emerald glass, creamy pudding swirled along fluted edges, and the morsel lingering in stemmed bottom had to be reached with our pinky fingers when no one was looking. The sweet, velvety pudding was both a treat and a comfort. Special glasses, cream and sugar, Grandma’s cozy kitchen.
While the pudding from the food co-op is delicious, it imparts little of the comfort I crave.
Impulsively, I invite various friends and groups of friends for dinner. Before confirmations, I begin planning and cooking. The energy focused on holding down the box lid on my trunk of worries, I divide, to focus on meal planning. In the morning, as I finish the lawn, instead of running the hamster wheel of apprehensions, I categorize ingredients in cupboards, shelves, fridge, and freezer. My mind adds and subtracts ingredients—grouping, arranging, rearranging.
Venison: the protein. Simple buttery polenta: the base. Fresh herbs: the green note. Frozen cauliflower from my father’s garden: the creamy, garlicky sauce. Roses are blooming on the cabin’s south-side, and a long-ago gardener’s rhubarb legacy peeks elephantine-ear leaves through tall grass. Roses, Honey, and Rhubarb: the sweet.
The sun moves through its longest days’ orbit and apologetic cancellations and rain checks for “dinner next time” trickle in.
It doesn’t matter. The meal’s underway in my mind. I have something else to focus on, and I leap from hamster wheel to kitchen counter with desperate relief.
The meal comes together throughout the day. I give myself up to familiar rhythms: chopping, mixing, spicing, stirring, seasoning—decisions weighty enough to satisfy and calm my anxious mind.
One person to cook for would be enough, and dear friend Ryan arrives. He doesn’t simply arrive, but walks through the door bearing a bag of fresh clams, mussels, and conch from Maine.
We steam the seafood, filling the cabin with a briny, tide pool aroma unfamiliar to Laughing Whitefish River shores.
We eat shelled delicacies in the screen tent, near the river. Maple leaf shadows stipple the tabletop. River water chuckles over stones, nearby. Finches, robins, and meadowlarks fill the insect-humming air with melody.
I can’t help myself, and chuckle aloud, as garlic-herb butter drips down my fingers.
It’s all still here—the worries, fears, anxieties—but distant now. Like the far-away whine of a mosquito you know you’ll have to deal with eventually, but for the moment, you’re safe.