Here is a truth about my life when I was in my 30’s…
I started the most intensive therapy that I would ever do regarding the sexual abuse, all of it coming out like a waterfall constantly pouring over me, memories crashing into me and PTSD in full blown technicolor. At near 60 I still have nightmares but not as bad as I did 30 years ago.
The point is that I held on as best I could and while I adored my children and think I was a pretty good mother under the circumstances these were very tenuous years and I was so fragile I was like a piece of Swiss cheese. You could see right through me.
This being the case, and having a wonderful husband and amazing daughter — well, BOTH of my daughters are amazing of course but it would be my oldest at the time that this pertained to — they cooked dinner together most of the time. I think I did and do have the most amazing family and though my husband and I separated in 1999 and divorced in 2005 it was a very loving, gentle parting and we are still close today and celebrate birthdays and holidays with our children. But as to the cooking…
Once in awhile I would be struck by the cooking bug. My family quaked in their boots. Since when I was cooking they would do the cleanup they got nervous when I got rolling. I wasn’t inspired to cook unless it was something elaborate, and I was (Well, I hadn’t been diagnosed yet as bi ploar but I’m pretty sure, being clinically depressed most of the time, my cooking sprees were the beginning of the blooming of my manic side…) not a neat cook. (This is absolutely the most understated way one might describe it trying to be kind.)
I think I liked to read about cooking more than I think I cared about the cooking itself and here I am a little nervous to tell why… okay… here goes. My family, including me, were vegetarians. The thing is, you see, after 8 years as a vegetarian I was craving meat in such an unseemly way that I began sneaking it, and was depressed by not being able to eat the food I really wanted to eat. For me cooking was a huge, dramatic affair and if we are to put it in today’s terms, well, let’s just say I am wild about Nigella Lawson. I wanted to cook things that were lush, and sensual, and exotic, and full of everything my family wouldn’t eat. While a lot of people around me were reading popular fiction I was immersed in Colette, and I read cookbooks like other people read novels, older classic cookbooks like Julia Child but most especially M.F. K Fisher whose books I read and swooned over, and I clung to these books and imagined a time and place I could cook and eat like that and share meals with those who would appreciate them. So when I came upon a recipe that my family would eat and it had the sense of romance that I craved I was on fire to cook it. Everyone disappeared as I entered the kitchen. And then it began.
Perhaps you can better understand when I tell you that before I started cooking I put on opera at a soul-stirring volume and poured myself a glass of wine. No one in their right mind wants to approach a woman who is singing along with Pavarotti doing Nessun Dorma at pretty much the top of her lungs, a glass of wine in one hand and extra virgin olive oil in the other. My cooking style was nothing if not dramatic, and that the kitchen looked like an oil slick when I finished was something I never quite noticed.
I would like to say here that the food was really good, and I think the intensity of the emotion I was carrying inside of me at the time of the most painful therapy of my life was the underlying reason for the drama of it all, a little wine, and opera fueling the preparing of the meal at hand was simply unforgettable. (To wit, my children quake in their boots if I am in the kitchen, well, wait, no, they are nowhere near me when I am in the kitchen. I scared them all off.)
I do not much care for ordinary everyday cooking. If it was up to me every day, every meal, would be gourmet fare. Of course it isn’t, but that is my bent. I don’t know why, I think it might be because I am a Taurus, an Earth Mother, I live for the garden, for the real luscious things in life, and I have done them in excess. I think if we still lived in that house my family would still be trying to get the olive oil off of things!
The thing is I meant well. I loved my family dearly and I was having such a hard time most of the time that when I did get it together enough to cook I threw myself in it like a tidal wave hitting the shore. I didn’t realize at the time that my brain chemistry was all askew and balance at that time was not in my inner vocabulary. I was either curled up in a ball on the bed crying or in the kitchen cooking to opera. I lived in two extremes, seldom ever in the middle.
And so the years went along. The children grew up as children do and they are such wonderful people, I am so proud of them, and each of the three of them have the most wonderful spouses, and both of my daughters have a son, my beloved grandchildren, and I am on my own. I wrote about cooking a few entries back. It is something I know I will return to often because it is such a fundamental thing in our lives, and it has been a huge part of my journey in life. Finally the day came when I would be alone, and cooking became a whole new experience for me and one I didn’t do well as I mentioned earlier.
Fast forward to the present. There was nothing approaching mindfulness in those years, and now it is the centerpiece of my life, not that I always do it just right but I long to, and I try. I have been working at a whole new relationship with food.
Just this week I prepared a meal, pasta with clams in a lovely white sauce. I cooked it all from scratch and I cooked very slowly. There was no opera playing, no wine at hand, lovely ingredients, herbs, spices, yes olive oil but only what was needed, butter, garlic, basil, cream, plump clams. As the pasta cooked the clams in their delectable sauce simmered. It was lovely and the whole cottage was filled with an aroma that could make you go weak in the knees.
Now here is an aside. I have a good chunk of weight to lose and I don’t live on gourmet fare but I do cook special meals once in awhile. I have been on every diet in the universe for most of my life and I no longer believe in diets. Please don’t send me any diet or health advice. I’ve read it all, heard it all, done it all, been as if hit over the head with a baseball bat with it all. What I have come to is that moderation, fresh organic foods, gluten free, for me, most of the time, and mostly working at developing self-love, and love for my body, in myriad ways, is what is leading me to care enough to finally do what I need to do. I can more easily go through my days eating really healthy if I can cook wonderful meals here and there that keep me from feeling so deprived I plummet into profound depression. Mind, there is no junk food on the menu, I seldom ever eat out, I buy wholesome healthy ingredients, and I have slowed down so that when I cook and when I eat I move through these processes enough to relish each bite, to cook without trashing the kitchen, to eat in such a manner that overeating is not necessary to satiate the senses. When you are eating empty foods that don’t address both dietary needs as well as the needs of the soul something is going to be lacking and there will be consequences.
My weight has been a lifelong struggle but I have found for me that dieting doesn’t work. A life centered in mindfulness and supported by self care while at the same time delighting the five senses is the way I will live for the rest of my days. I want to do it well and I want to be happy. Moving slowly through these processes is a gift. I am falling in love with cooking, this time in a sane way, and I am really tasting and relishing my food.
I hold the vegetables with reverence. I use the olive oil and butter carefully, and just enough for the dish. I love the spices, the herbs, the aromas as they rise from the pot. I am experiencing it all.
The closer I get to nature, being in the garden, growing my own herbs to carry in to cook with, taking great care to choose the foods that I will eat so that I don’t waste food since there is just me, the more in balance I am in all areas of my life. I will pour a glass of wine on occasion to sit down with a nice meal, but I wait until the meal is prepared, I light candles, and I sit at peace. I am learning, in my 60th year I am learning.
I am once again reading cookbooks like some people read novels, but most days the lush, complex recipes, the meals that would be far too rich and complicated for me I am satisfied to simply read on the page.
I have the weekend’s meals planned, and I will cook my humble meals, enough for a few days ahead, and somewhere through the week I will treat myself to something wonderful, and I will cook to the rhythm of the day, slowly, feeling my breath, my body, my feet firmly on the ground, awake and alive to every moment of the cooking and the dining and the clean up afterward. There is hope for me yet. And I am excited. This is an adventure, and now I feel equal to the task.
I will always lean toward the ripe sensuality of Colette, I will feel it in my body and my life and on the page, but the counters will not be oil soaked, and there is a peace and calm in the wake of the meal. I am learning, and it is good.