Monday, April 25, 2011

I'll Miss You, Chelan

Dear Chelan,

I’m a week away from leaving for Mexico. When I come back, I don’t plan to come back to you. It’s a good thing for me, but sometimes you make it hard to walk away.
You and I haven’t always been the best of friends. I used to avoid going to the grocery store because I didn’t want to see all the people I knew. It’s tough living in the town where you grew up; sometimes it’s tough running into your old teachers and classmates, but living in your hometown means you do it constantly if you’ve been away as often as I have. It’s hard to try and explain how you’ve changed, and harder still because you see the changes in your hometown and you resent them. It’s a catch 22: you want people to recognize that you’ve grown up and become different while begrudging the changes that took place in your absence.
There are fewer orchards. There are more people. Many of the faces have changed, but many have stayed the same, or perhaps just become a little more lived in. Those changes one can get used to, Chelan. It’s the way the world works. What is harder to get used to – at least for me – is leaving the absolute beauty of your lake.
You’re so beautiful in the moonlight. You’re like the sea when the wind tears across you, and no one should underestimate your power in those instances. More than that, however, you are the trusted friend that cooled my skin in the summer heat and gave me something to smile at when the cold winter clouds hovered over you.
It doesn’t matter where I am in the world or whom I’m talking to, I’m bragging about you. I tell people that you’re deep, clear and cold, 55 miles long, with a hidden treasure at the other end that includes a bakery and a minute town that is only reachable by float plane, boat, or a long hard hike. I tell people about how I was spoiled growing up next to you; how I hate swimming in warm water after having gotten used to your glacial temperature; how I swam across you once, and cutting through the reflection of the mountains on your surface was pure bliss. I love you all of the time, but most of all in May, when I’m one of the crazy ones that can’t stay out of your near-hypothermic water. The apple blossoms are out and the hills are a light green, the lilacs are in bloom and there you are, not yet overrun by boats, placid and deep like a wise teacher. Now, on the cusp of spring, the trees are covered in tiny green buds that promise my favorite time of year.
And I won’t be here to enjoy it.
There’s no need to pity me. I’m heading to another paradise, different from you but beautiful in its own right. Despite the fact that I’m leaving, however, I just had to make sure you knew that I always think of you, wherever I am, whether I’m with you or not.

Love and pure water kisses

Monday, April 18, 2011

Taking Home Wherever I Go

I recently read a book by Molly Wizenberg called A Homemade Life. Aside from writing phenomenally about her life and the food that is part of it, Molly talks about not being sure if she’s found home, but having taken comfort in having Paris as her second home. For Molly, it’s France. For me, it’s Mexico: its food, scenery, culture and people. What is more important to me, however, is finding a way to incorporate home into my life wherever I am; to be able to make any place on earth my home, regardless of how humble or impermanent it may be. It’s a survival tactic: I can’t continue the pattern I’ve had for so long of leaving my life completely and coming back to nothing and starting over. I need to be able to sense some continuity in my life and plans, and at this point I need to find a way to do so that does not include buying that piece of comfort.

So, you ask, what is that home for me?

Home is someplace safe, where the pressure falls off and there is nothing left to keep you from sleeping deeply and peacefully. Home is a dream I had once, where I closed the door behind me and I was surrounded by nothing but what brought me joy and no pain. It is the place where my mind finally rests.
Home is a tangible place, but not always the same place. It is the answer to where I want to be and what I am inside, in the part of me I can’t always tap into, that knows who I am without any of the doubts and pressures that I otherwise cannot fully dismiss.
Home is a person. Home is the people who smile at my joys and remind me where I am going, and that I will make it there.
Home is somewhere that I have worked toward and made it to. It is the way that I fall into bed, exhausted, after a long day doing exactly what I want.
What is home to me? Home is where I eat the fruits of my own labors and cry over my disappointments without fear that they will seek to haunt me; home is where the stars shine just for me and the air is always crystal clear.
Home is where I always have wanted to find. It is somewhere that I dream of, without knowing what exactly I am looking for. When I say I am homeless, I do not mean it in the sense of walls and a roof; rather I consider it a state of mind I have been trying to reach that is still outside my grasp. It is the last place I want my head to lie; I want to wake up bed at home and be able to simply lie there without wondering what it is I am searching for or how to find it.
My home has windows that show a vast ocean of possibility outside, a skylight that shows the stars of opportunity shining brightly, and the shelter I need to remind myself that I will be okay.
I am nothing without home, but home is still an unfound refuge. It is nothing without my dreams, my hopes, my aspirations, but its structure is solid even without them. My home is without need of shoring, for it has been there all along.
Home is something I ache to find, yet will never be able to survive without; I already have it.

Home is a place I've been looking for for quite awhile, but I tend to find it only fleetingly. Although I imagine it as a tangible place -- and I even have a picture of what it looks like in my head -- when I really think about it I don't think it's a place at all, more a mental refuge that I need to find and not lose track of again. I feel closest to home at the moment that I strike out on a new adventure, when my path has yet to be carved out and my thoughts are on nothing more than the day ahead of me and how I will spend it. In my home, I have been able to accept who I am without wondering what other people think of my path, have been able to let go of some of the worries that do me no good and waste brain space and power, and this place is one in which everything I do is an accomplishment, but doesn't have to mean anything at all.
If this home were a place, however, it would have a river running through it, and no rules against bathing nude in the sunshine, or the moonlight.

Love and homey kisses

Monday, April 11, 2011

Me, on Cooking

I love food, but my love affair goes far beyond the simple act of scraping it onto a fork and putting it into my mouth. I love the process that goes into preparing any ingredient I can find in the refrigerator that I think sounds good: peeling the outer layers off the garlic and onions, heating the olive oil and feeling the tickle in my nose as the black pepper starts to cook, watching the garlic chunks turn crunchy and brown, wilting the lettuce, plumping the raisins, stirring in the coconut milk until it encompasses the rest of the contents of the pan. And yes, all of those ingredients usually go into one catch-all dish.

There’s a reason people gather in kitchens at parties. You can rarely find a better smell in a house than what’s coming out of the kitchen; unless it’s prepared ahead of time, you can rarely talk to the cook unless you’re perched on a stool near him or her. If I’m the cook, I’m probably going to give you a knife and a cutting board and ask you to chop something. Regardless of what your task is in the kitchen, there’s a reason to be there: there’s sustenance, both in the food you’re making and the in conversation that surrounds it; there are ideas about how to change it, perfect it, or tailor it, and after all the time you’ve spent surrounded by it, you get to pick it up off a plate, let its flavors meld in your mouth, and taste the time that went into it. If there’s anything not to like about that, I’m not sure what it is.

I consider myself a concoctionist. No, it is not a real word, and no, I’m probably not the one that made it up. I can cook with a recipe, but most of the time I don’t want to because the recipe leaves out the peppers that I couldn’t resist buying at the store because they were a perfect sunny yellow; it doesn’t make room for the leftover chili in the fridge that I’ve already eaten for four nights in a row. The recipe doesn’t tell me to throw in a spice that sounds like it might make or break the whole thing; a recipe didn’t lead me to create sweet potato hash browns with nutmeg, ginger, garlic and red chili flakes or chipotle butternut squash soup.

Lately I’ve been reading culinary fiction and other books on food, and it has made me mindful of what I pour into my pot. I’ve been sick lately and my soups reflect it: they’re hearty, chock full of vitamins, rich and deep in taste and color with a little bit of spice because it’s sometimes all I can detect with a stuffy nose. I’m stressed so I’m making pastas with pesto – rice pasta since wheat and I don’t always get along – because there’s nothing more comforting to me than a warm nutty basil sauce slathered over carbs. I have too much food in my cupboard and not enough time to eat it, so I’m chucking extra ingredients in wherever possible to use them up before they go bad: asparagus in soups, peanut flour in stews, Mexican herbal remedies thrown in for good luck and good juju. I’m hungry for rest and peace, and any good therapist would be able to see it in my food.

As mundane as following a recipe could sound to a concoctionist, any hesitancy I have in the matter is wiped away by getting to share my experience with others. I’m deep into my next recipe book, another compilation of recipes and wine pairings for another region, and I am trying recipes from my contributors at breakneck pace. It’s one of the only times I will follow a recipe, and it’s because I want to be sure the recipe works the way it’s supposed to. Any gathering is an excuse to make something with someone. If I made all the recipes myself it would simply mean that they worked for me, by including my friends I get perspective and discussion about the dishes, not to mention someone to enjoy them with.

I recently met a woman who told me she wished there was a food pill she could take instead of eating; that food was just something she had to eat to survive. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “I really don’t understand people like you.” In hindsight, it might have been a little rude. Then again, it might have been rude for her to tell someone like me that food should be contained in a pill.

Love and deep cooking kisses

Monday, April 4, 2011

Making It

This weekend someone asked me what I did for a living. I cannot even tell you how satisfactory it was to say, “I’m a writer.”
I’ve written about this phenomenon before, but at that point being a writer wasn’t something that brought me even a little bit of money. While I have to admit that I am still not fully able to support myself on my writing, it is now without a doubt the number one thing that I pour my energy into in exchange for money.
This may be confusing to some – after all, I quit my job in Bellevue more than three years ago, and since then I’ve mainly been working on my writing – right? Yes, but until this point I was always either living off my savings or working other jobs to supplement my writing and support this crazy idea I had to write for a living. As of this month, however, I have had to put away or quit all those other attempts to supplement my income because I am getting so busy that I simply don’t have the time to mess around working for someone else to make my money. That’s right: I’m at a terrifying point in my life where I have to invest all my time in making money without having any solid proof that I will make it.
Yes, of course this is petrifying. No, I haven’t been sleeping like a baby at the thought. Yes, this means that my life is perhaps more unsteady than it’s ever been before. At the same time, however, it’s also the only step I can take that is in the right direction – if I don’t give myself the room to succeed, there’s no way I will.
This has lead me to wish sometimes that there was some magic genie that would tell me that I will make it, but then I think, “What exactly is making it anyway?”
Maybe making it is when you decide that you make enough money to not have to worry anymore, but then again, most people I know worry about money regardless of how much they have. Perhaps making it is when you get to do whatever it is you want, regardless of the income, but if that’s the case, then I’ve made it already, even if I’m not quite financially solvent yet.
When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a card with a poem on it called “Success,” attributed (perhaps incorrectly) to Ralph Waldo Emerson. (You can read the poem if you click on the name of the poem; most people have heard it at some point in their lives.) Based on this and my continuing effort in trying to define “making it” for me, I have reached a conclusion: I have made it. Despite the fact that I don’t yet make enough money doing it, and that I have no idea if I will ever make enough money doing it, I have decided that I have made it for many reasons. I get to spend every day working toward my own success: if there’s a step back it’s mine, but all the step forwards are mine too.
I get to cook delicious meals again and again to perfect them for my cookbook. It’s an important part of my job, and one I truly enjoy. I make money because I do this. How awesome is that?
And the best reason, in case you forgot? I get to call myself a writer and know that it’s true.
Having decided that I’ve already made it, I’m now letting myself off the hook. There is no failure if the experiences come with life-changing lessons. My life has changed and I can let go of the idea of making it because I already have. This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying, but I am going to stop worrying about reaching a goal that I haven’t even really defined. Even if the world blew up tomorrow and I never sold another book with my name on it, I still get to apply these experiences and their rewards to the rest of my life. If that’s not “making it,” I don’t know what is.

Love and made it kisses