Last week I made myself dinner. Not the way I’ve been making dinner most nights since boarding The Fateful Plane in July, but actually cooked. I planned a dish the way I used to plan a dish–visiting one of my favorite grocery stores or farmer’s markets, letting what was fresh and catching my eye steer the rest of the meal. I was in Seattle at Metropolitan Market, where lush bushels of broccoli rabe were fanning out from the produce shelves. That, I thought, would be good with that butternut squash ravioli I picked up. Really simple sauce, nothing overwhelming the tender, delicate pasta pushing its own hidden flavor forward. Butter. Browned. In a pan. I remembered the Kerrygold garlic and herb butter in its Willy Wonka gold foil, a melting magic stick for a girl whose spice rack is still snowbirding in Tucson.
Cheese? Cheese. There needs to be cheese. But parmigiano-reggiano feels like a texture mismatch, and mozzarella would be overkill. In the corner of my mind, I heard a bleating, one of my so-often-overlooked favorites fighting for a rightful moment. Chevre. CHEVRE!!! Holy duh, chevre. The creaminess of fresh goat cheese would compliment the squash, with the tartness playfully batting back. With all that creaminess, there had to be a crunch. The broccoli rabe wasn’t enough; something needed to get between the teeth. With such a fall-happy dish, the answer is hardly worth repeating. Toasted and candied Oregon hazelnuts, of holy duh. Bitterness. There’s going to be some bitter. It needs something to cut the bitter, cut the rich. A few weeks before I was brunching with a friend on Capital Hill, and I had the most delicate waffle studded with Italian marinated cherries. Like maraschino cherries kicked the Taco Bell habit and got a job bartending at Expatriate.
I brought all the ingredients together after work a night later, with the lack of fanfare that’s become customary in my freakish separated-couple limbo. No presenting of the final result to another, no compliments unless I decide to talk to myself. There is, it seems, almost no point. Why go to the trouble when there is Top Ramen and Trader Joe’s risotto?
Cooking is a part of my life that I miss. I have been out of practice amidst the chaos of This Summer, now technically This Fall. My pans, my husband informed me, are collecting dust (this kills me. KILLS. ME.). I can’t remember the last time I built a sauce or a stock. I don’t dance through the store, picking out my palette, letting the stresses and petty annoyances of an everyday melt beneath a knife and saute. I do not have the distraction to plan how I’ll make something good. How I’ll make it better. These are the questions now: what is easy? What can be made small? What doesn’t make a mess?
I do not make meals for my family-of-two because I have to. It’s how I express my love when saying it is redundant. It’s how I treat myself. When I’m not doing it, I feel much worse than I do when the time and effort is spent, to little notice of the rest of the universe.
It is the same way that I have missed writing from my life. I have been unmoored, and I have trouble concentrating. There are swaths of thoughts I have to write about, but they’re all over the place, and I know that I can’t write about what I’ve experienced until I have turned the corner. Until I can sit back and take it all in without the bias of the moment’s sting. My heart can’t be this fresh. I haven’t totally stopped writing (because I would go insane, hence thank you blog), but I crave the momentum and routine I had before. I need to get that back, and I have not. Not yet. I’m working on it.
Tonight, microwave rice and tofu from the deli. A few hundred words here, a refusal to give up. It is not my best. But I can’t give up. I don’t do this to eat. I do this to live.