Tag Archives: food

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A Blog. A Lockdown. Hydroponics

Blog

Kindness. Compromise. Empathy.

In 2011, I started a blog as a sort of writing practice. How hard could it be? Choose a word. Write some stuff. Post.

A friend in my writing group generously offered to create the banner with my title for the blog and splashed bright, colorful, bold letters across the top of the page: W.O.R.D.S. Have color. Have vision. Have power. I gave it a subtitle: Stories about life and sometimes food. I forged ahead.

Photographs of my father and grandmother were awful, but I didn’t think they’d be offended. Both had long since passed on. A story about making pizza at home with my nieces netted me a lucrative writing contract.

It’s been said that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

In November 2012, I was blindsided by a diagnosis of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. I quit my music performance group and, in 2013, as a result of complications, spent six months in hospitals and rehab. For a short time, I was completely incapacitated without use of my arms or hands. I could not walk and was confined to a wheelchair. But I had my laptop and dictation software. I kept posting.

As much as I tried to avoid the excrement of politics ─ the racism, classism, sexism, and religious nationalism ─ there were days when the poop landed square on my pages. Circumstances, of course, will compel me to step into the mess again. Still, honor, generosity, and love — genuine goodness and human kindness — are real. Inner conflicts are powerful. But here’s the reality. When I focus on the good, I write from joy.

Focus on living a food inspired life. 

I clung to this like a mantra, a talisman, a life raft. Sometimes I wrote about what I ate or what I cooked.

I promised myself to write about contemporary Black chefs and their approaches to food. Feeling overwhelmed with my body mass index, I joined Weight Watchers. I explored new recipes, and I started feeling at ease. I realized that mine was already a food inspired life. 

Lockdown

 

“Doggone it! There’s always something,” my mother used to say.

In March 2020, as the lockdown began, my monthly intravenous immune suppressing infusions were put on hold for the first time in nine years.

“It’s unsafe,” said the nurse coming to my apartment, “to continue to administer in your home.” She worked in a hospital flooded with COVID. My neurologist said, “Let’s see how you get on. If necessary, you can go to the hospital.”  

“Um. Aren’t people in hospitals dying of COVID?  No thanks.”

On the bright side, it seemed that the whole world was returning to the joy of cooking and eating at home. The stillness of roads without tires slapping cement and the silence of streets without human chatter filled me with pleasure. Across the street on the college grounds and nature walk, I saw a fox. Deer, unmolested by our human presence, returned to nibble plants. Scores of butterflies and moths fluttered in the trees across the road and in the trees outside my window.

The Canal Grande, in Venice, Italy, became so clear that you could see dolphins, octopus, and crabs in the waters. This had me whooping for joy.

“Keep the visitors away,” I said. “Keep the big cruisers out of the canals!” For me, the lockdown presented an image of paradise. I relaxed in the fluctuating winds, rain, snow, and sunny days. Contemplating food prep, I watched cooking shows, read food memoirs, and researched food writers. It was a sloooow-down time, making way for delights like the writings of Gullah culinary anthropologist Verta Mae Grosvenor and the food adventures of Peter Mayle.

I put aside concerns about the pandemic as my food inspired life consumed me.      

    

Hydroponics

 

If I may say so myself ─ and I do ─ my tiny kitchen is a chef-worthy kitchen. Two heavy duty juicers cram against each other and line up near the microwave where spiralizer and electric kettle are squished near the edge of the counter. A large food processor nestles near a high-powered blender (one that converts grains to flour) and an air fryer. The pressure cooker/instant pot, rice cooker, and bread machine are jammed into remaining space. And still, I desire more…a standing mixer perhaps?

My wonderful friend Rae, an amazing artist, writer, and food enthusiast, sent me a gift: a hydroponic planter. Now, I thought, I can fancy myself a “farm to table” cook. There was no space for the 6″ x 14″ planter in the kitchen, so I tucked it on a side table between the sofa and the living room wall.

 For starters, I put basil, Bibb lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and spinach into the germination sponges.

In just a short time, I had two very large lettuce plants, enough for salad.

Magical! I pinched a leaf and placed it on my tongue. It was tender, delicate in flavor and almost weightless. The basil grew like a wild thing, while the spinach took its sweet time. The tomatoes? This was something really special. In almost no time, I had to re-pot the basil and the tomatoes.

Farm to table? Perhaps not. But it’s settled. Mine is already a food inspired life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where We Are Gathered

My writing has been lagging, my blog posts few. I just could not get back to the page. I’ve been weepy. Enraged. Demanding answers about our political controversies and wondering, “How did we get here?” 

One afternoon, I was listening to Joan Baez sing “Brothers in Arms,” an antiwar song. I became distraught again as I remembered my days as a young political activist. How did we get here? The following is one of the recent experiences that has motivated me to write again─ with respect and an open heart.

The woman comes into the church social hall, dressed like she always does.  She wears a dark brown coat pulled tightly around her. Is it wool? I’m not sure. She’s been wearing it since the early fall, and it matches the dark brown, unkempt wig she wears. The wig’s ends are stiff and push out from under the brown hat pulled over her head for warmth. She walks timidly as if she’s ashamed to be with us ─ all of us, volunteers and pantry guests alike. Some of us are both.

For more than a year I’ve volunteered at this church food pantry where some sort of alchemy takes place in the social hall. I’ve put my frustration about increased partisan politics aside as I help arrange the tables with vegetables, fruit, baked goods, meat and eggs, and I find myself smiling. Thanks to the generosity of local grocery vendors in our area, this particular food pantry is transformed into a glorious market.  There are bouquets of flowers. Loaves of bread. Bread and Roses. When we are done arranging and sorting, the social hall looks amazing.

I watch the brown coat woman grab a cup of coffee. She almost never talks and sits with her eyes directed toward her coffee and snacks. She surprises me by asking, “Is there more sugar and cream?” Of course, there is. The minister makes sure there’s plenty of everything: coffee and tea, sometimes orange juice. A kitchen volunteer assembles platters of cake, cookies, and small fruit as a breakfast snack for the guests.

As I measure coffee and tea into food storage bags, I repeat a prayer for comfort to myself. Coffee, tea and the snacks help some of the guests start their day on a high note and, perhaps, will pull them out of the sadness of their situations.

It’s hard for me to stay angry about American politics in the presence of sacred work. I watch the minister who directs a steady gaze to the eyes of every person she speaks with. She comforts. I am moved by her dedication. To my knowledge, she has never closed the pantry for any reason. Twenty-four inches of snow? There will be food and the pantry will be open. She may be challenged but not daunted.  Her mission is to comfort and serve.

There is magic in this community of humanity. Service is a healing balm and a saving grace. For three hours each week, the heartless politicians in Washington who have sought to undermine and destroy the tenets of the United States Constitution become background noise, the least of my worries.

Still, I wonder, “How did we get here?”

As the summer wanes and October brings chillier weather, gold leaves, and rain, I take refuge in the cascade of apples brought to the church. There are enough apples for 100 people to each fill a small bag if he or she wanted. And I feel something. The motivation to write again.

I feel something else, too. Love.

Wherever two or more of us are gathered in the sacred name, serving each other and receiving, I know we’ll be okay. The woman in the brown coat smiles into her cup. We will be okay.

Okra

Hi there. I’ve been away for a while. It scares me because part of me is not clear how two months went by without writing a thing on these pages. Part of me wants to say that it has been my participation in other writing projects, but the other part of me knows better.

Prior to my diagnosis of GBS/CIDP, I was infatuated with my own cooking ability. Now that sounds egotistical, but the truth is: I would kiss myself in the kitchen. Now that I’m getting my strength back and can do some shopping, chopping, and sautéing (thanks to my food processor and Blendtec super machine), life is, I must say, very, very good. Take today, for instance. Do you smell that? It’s chicken livers and onions smothered in gravy. This former vegan is a happy eater.

There’s a lot of healing, and not just physical, that comes with preparing my own food. There’s no mystery to this. Folks have been writing about it for centuries and continue to write about it today. Food is healing, but cooking it yourself is quantum healing.

So about the title. I’ve never liked okra. By the way, that means never. Growing up with Southern food, okra was a major ingredient. There was stewed tomatoes and okra over rice dinner. And gumbo. There was also just plain old fried okra. If there is one vegetable guaranteed to get my gag reflex going, it’s okra. So imagine my surprise — really, I’m not kidding — when I was at the farmers market last week and I found myself reaching for okra. I’d heard that it has lots of anti-inflammatory qualities and vitamins and such, so I fell for it.

Before I go further, I want to point out that I figured out that my temporary separation from the blog was a good thing. I was swimming in the muck of what was wrong with this world. It doesn’t take much to hear it, see it, feel it. It’s all around us. Yet, once I started diving into writing about issues, something amazing happened. I stopped writing. I was depressed.

I know about issues. Look at me. I live in the United States. I know issues aplenty. But my reason for writing had fallen into a sewer of social and political angst. Preachiness, judgment, and— well, you know.

This morning, when I realized why I subconsciously took two months off, I took a photograph of my chicken livers. Damn, that felt good.

9-6 blog

Back to okra. Two childhood foods stand out in my mind: my love for liver and onions and my distaste for okra. So, after I purchased the okra from the farmer, I needed to do something with it. I was moaning to an 80-year-old woman I know about my waste of money when she suggested that I fry them. I remembered frying okra at my mother’s suggestion 20 years ago. That was the last time I cooked okra.

Nevertheless, I gave it a whirl using a mixture of seasoned flour and Italian bread crumbs. Nothing fancy. Just the seasonings, the ghee that I fried them in, and the beautiful cucumber tomato salad on the side.

August 2015 001

I’m no food stylist, and the pictures sure aren’t pretty, but I’ll tell you one thing: I’m out of my funk.

Welcome home, Sala.