Chop. Breathe. Chop. Breathe.
Sing out loud. Swing those hips.
There was a time when original songs flew out of my mouth like candy from a broken pinata. Not so much anymore. I’ve projected that energy into my kitchen. I put the rhythms into my knives. I put the results on my hips.
Chop, chop, chop. Breathe.
The collard greens disintegrate under the blade. They become two-inch, then one, then quarter-inch strips. The strips are almost mashed as they reach the size of popcorn kernels.
What do I plan to do with these greens? Part of the mound will be put in a salad. I’m supposed to be eating more raw food. Part of them will be juiced or blended into a green smoothie with pineapple, banana, blueberries, and flaxseed. That smoothie is one of the best parts of my day. I’ll throw the remainder into a pot with spices so expertly added that no one on the planet would miss the ham hocks or turkey wings. That’s how good I am.
But no one except me will taste these collards. The last fifteen months of COVID restrictions and lockdowns put a harness on the joy of sharing food with my friends. Of all things, this lack of sharing has been a particular sadness for me. However, the isolation has been an easy and welcome ride. So much so that I’m going to continue to isolate even as restrictions are loosened.
I spent many years with an ashram, engaging in spiritual practices like silence, practices that left me feeling comfortable being alone. And I was alone during the lockdown. With no family in the area, without visits from friends, and unable to have neighbors drop-in, I had no one to whom I could feed the homemade sushi rolls and blueberry muffins.
So what did I do during this long, quiet time? I watched food shows on Netflix. I became the online ordering maven, increasing my share of sheets, shoes, and groceries. I read food memoirs. I saved a lot of money not having to put gas in my car because there was nowhere to go. I’ve been writing, working on a book, a meandering path but one that keeps me uplifted. I discovered Zoom.
And, last but not least, I’ve had time to think about all the things my younger me wanted. I had time to do this, right? She wanted to learn how to dance ballet. (To this day, I literally get goosebumps at the sight, feel, and smell of leotards and tights.)
She thought she wanted to marry and have (whoa, Nellie!!!) eight children.
That young girl thought she would live on a farm. Is there anything more magical than watching life springing from life over and over again?
As an empathic child, I struggled ─ too much ─ to repress my nature. Obstacles of poverty and racism pulled me away from the things I loved: music, poetry, dance. Making the world a better place.
The family holiday gatherings and church picnics, generous with the best of our gardens, farms, and cooking intelligence, only increased my feelings of love for humanity and allowed my empathy to surge. We sang. We fed each other.
Over the years, and all the things and worlds I’ve dabbled in, I’ve come to realize that cooking is a great love. This was never made more clear than during the past year and one half of my COVID safety lifestyle.
The farming thing? Well, I created that in a different form. I have an indoor hydroponic garden for herbs and small vegetables like cherry tomatoes.
I don’t feel alone.
If a camera had been placed on the cubicles above my microwave, it might have caught me dancing. It might have heard me singing a jazz tune by Sarah Vaughn or a folk song by Joni Mitchell. It certainly would have caught me shaking my behind to Sly and the Family Stone (outing my age) or old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll while chopping those collards. It might have found me listening to hymns of Annapurna, the Hindu goddess of food. With tens of millions going without food, I am grateful to the bone for these greens.
Chop. Breathe. Shake my behind. Sing. Living a version of my younger self’s dreams.
Those collards were good.
A poster of Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion and mercy, hangs in my living room. She looks relaxed, at ease, overlooking the worldly chaos that we endure daily. “Relax,” she seems to radiate. Okay. I think I will.
The new year is always a pretty high time for me. This year, it all began with a Christmas tree. For the first time in, oh, say 30 years, I bought a small tree a few days before Christmas. It came with lights and, I have to say, was pretty cute. I decorated the artificial leaves with paper ornaments downloaded from the Internet and added a few more lights to brighten the room. It brought me great joy. Each morning, I plodded around in my red flannel nightgown feeling, well, relaxed.
Nice. No urgency, no panic. Could it be that making that last payment on my living room furniture could bring such calm? No. It was deeper than that. I had begun to take charge of my life in this strange world of recovery from CIDP in a more confident way.
Like the calming voice of a hypnotist, everything seemed to be repeating that word, and the word itself seemed to be swathed in a soft blue light. “Okay,” I thought.
One morning, I plugged in the tree and (using my new Roku television app!) found a virtual fireplace with Christmas music. Standing back and looking at the fireplace and the tree, I was once again struck by how relaxed I felt. I’ve had such rare moments of this kind of peace that I had to take it all in one moment at a time. I felt warm, cozy, and ready for 2016. How would I begin this year?
I emptied a pack of raw cranberries into a saucepan, added some sugar, and stood stirring and watching as the red berries began to bubble. There were three things that came to mind that would make this a year of relaxation: cooking, writing, and— crocheting. Crocheting? More about that later.
Cooking puts me in my happy place. It’s one of the few areas in my life where I am totally at ease, content. This explains why, when I lost my ability to feel with my hands or lift things, I panicked. The kitchen is my sacred space. And this is something I got from my parents and extended family, both men and women. In the kitchen, secrets were shared, hearts were healed, and great food was made. Perhaps this is why, when I think of the peaceful times in my family, it has to do with food.
The cranberries had boiled into a thick, sugary sauce. Yes, cooking would definitely contribute to a peaceful year. Then, I thought about writing. Ahh. Writing. It is no exaggeration to say that writing has saved my life. But my resolution is not about discipline; I can always use more discipline. It’s about staying in touch with that fire that kept me going in my journals when I thought everything was lost. It’s about using it to connect my personal history, my ancestry, and food.
Yum. I knew that I was gonna have a glorious holiday breakfast. The virtual fireplace was roaring, the choir was singing “Angels We Have Heard On High,” and the tree sparkled against the dawn.
I sliced a hunk of cranberry speckled cornbread and put it in the toaster oven to heat. Now, about this crochet madness. Really, Sala? Really?
When I was child living with six other people in a two bedroom apartment, my mother (very much a southern woman) ensured that my sister and I learn needlework, crochet, and a little sewing. While my sister seemed to take to sewing like a duck in water, I rebelled (my middle name). In my young adult years, however, I came back to crocheting. It seemed that even several straight rows, unrecognizable as anything usable, appeared to erase the passage of time. An added benefit was that sitting at a party with yarn and a crochet needle drew the guys to my corner like bees to honey. They considered me “deep.”
The cornbread was hot and I slathered it with my newly made cranberry sauce and butter. Nope. Watching my weight was not even in the list for the new year. Next were fried apples, heavily seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, and dates for sweetener. Of course I cooked them in butter; I’m not stupid!
Standing over the stove and plating the food filled me with an inner sweetness matched only by the odors filling my apartment. Like a ghost, the smells slipped under the door and out into the building hallway. I’m sure that everyone on my floor knew I had cinnamon for breakfast.
This morning, post-New Year’s celebrations and all, I have the urge to crochet a wall hanging and frame it. I’ll let y’all know how that goes. Joy is the greatest gift we have, and for some outlandish reason, I feel that relaxed joy is the most important part of my resolution for 2016. Not weight loss; not changing my style; not a spreadsheet with tips about exercise. All this is important, but the most important is joy.
Relaxation and joy. That’s what I want for the new year. And that’s what I wish for you.
Posted in African American, Creative Non-Fiction, Essay, Family memories, Food, Life Stories, Memoir, values and spirituality, Writing from the heart
Tagged Commentary, Feelings, life and food, Life Stories, memoir, Reflections, story telling, values and spirituality, world view, writing from the heart