Eating for Joy

It’s been a long time since I posted.

Partially this is because I was writing elsewhere; the manuscript for the book I announced in my last post in (*gulp*) January was due at the beginning of June, and aside from the four chapters I wrote for the proposal, I was writing everything from scratch. Though I’d written a full manuscript already, chronicling my experience as my daughter Sammi’s advocate on our strange and perplexing medical odyssey, the COVID-19 pandemic squelched the publishing industry’s appetite for books about illness. Along with the proposal for a book on medical mystery went the entire 75,000+ word manuscript. In its place came a far more optimistic retelling, a story about my ambivalence for food that turned into a deep joy I found in cooking, feeding, and my own appetite. The story arc is the same, but — like in the parable of the blind men and the elephant — I’ve learned to tell it from a different perspective.

Writing the story from the trunk-end of the elephant, as it were, has helped me turn this even more into my own story and less of my daughter’s. Of course, she’s the key to revelation, but now that I have looked back with this lens — that food always held everything I valued, from nourishment to love to awe to compassion to delight — I can’t help seeing every meal I cook as an extension of that journey, the next chapter in the story.

This spring, I published a story about my family’s love for Oreos in Bon Appetit’s Healthyish column. It was a thrill to write for such a huge, iconic magazine, and the fact that it brazenly identified me as someone seeking joy in the way we eat felt like a big shift for me. The older Sammi gets, the less this story becomes about her and the more it becomes about me and who I want to be as a mother, a friend, a wife, a writer, and a human. Do I want to identify myself with stories of struggle or triumph? Do I want to give people a chance to hear their pain echoed as much as I want to let them see what could be if they walked around to the other side of the elephant? I asked myself these questions a lot as I wrote this winter and spring. The answer has turned out to be both, and.

What a gift it was that my medical-mystery-memoir didn’t find a home!

As I wait for the edits to come back from the book publisher, I’ve begun my first real vegetable garden. I’ve grown tomatoes and herbs before, but this is a whole other level:

I harvested these fresh beets and carrots out of my garden after starting them from seeds. From seeds! Along with them, I have grown arugula, red ruby chard, red and white onions, scallions, spinach, rosemary, basil, and strawberries. Coming soon are tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. I never get tired of the miracle of these vegetables which arrive without packaging, a marketing campaign, a pithy slogan or any fanfare whatsoever. They just grow.

And so the best part of summer is here: making my family’s favorite beet/carrot/potato salad, thick garlicky raw-cashew pesto, sautéed greens with pine nuts and raisins, big salads of arugula festooned with the bright blue blossoms of borage plants that taste like cucumbers, and all kinds of desserts with fruit from our farmer’s markets. Even better are the quiet moments on my front porch with a bowl of cherries, spitting the pits into the foliage below. If a cherry tree sprouts there one day, all the better.

I love food. It’s also true that Sammi now loves food, maybe because she was always destined to do so, maybe because I refused to turn it into the enemy no matter how many weird diets she had to endure. There were always miracles like these carrots and beets. There were always miracles like her.

 

I’m cooking for love: beets and daughters, carrots and myself. It’s so wonderful that I wish I could turn back time to the fearful version of myself and offer some binoculars to her, showing her the life way off in the distance. But if I did that, would she have learned all of this beauty along the way? Would I have these beets, this daughter, this version of myself?

It feels like the lessons of those years are still unfolding, and I’m receiving them with open hands and curiosity. As I await the edits on the book and then the turtle’s-pace of publication, I’ll likely keep posting only sporadically. If you want to be notified when there’s news — book-related or otherwise — please subscribe to this blog’s updates:

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In the meantime, happy summer to all of you in the northern hemisphere. Happy winter to those of you in the southern hemisphere. And happy, joyful, soulful eating to all of you, everywhere.

 

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