I have written versions and drafts of this to you in my head, upon waking in the middle of the night, on the mat at yoga class, during my run along the grassy median in my neighborhood. Places where spring’s starting to poke out of the ground in crocuses, swell the budding tips of branches, blossom in the cherry and plum trees. And I have written it at my laptop, which is usually next to the kitchen.
I have to begin, I think, with our neighborhood grocery store. It’s less than a mile up the road from our house, and it is our version of Cheers: everybody knows our names, or at least our faces. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that we go there almost every day. We get our double iced Americanos and caramel macchiatos there, our daughters have had birthday serenades and we’ve eaten family cups of gelato there. We’ve made friends there. So it is partly a place where we find community.
Sometimes we do plan our meals for the week, but more often it’s a day or two in advance. Partly because of the store, and because of its proximity, planning what we’re going to have for dinner is one of my everyday pleasures. It is where most of our disposable income goes. We don’t go out to movies very often anymore, we don’t even go to bookstores and music stores very often. But we do allow ourselves the pleasure of our grocery store. And, though we don’t have a year-round farmers market in our city, we do live within five miles of three farmers markets when the season begins. We try to go there even in the rain and cold.
Breakfasts are usually staples on hand. My latest breakfast obsession is peanut butter granola. (Before this it was toast with jam; before that it was peanut butter and jelly toasted sandwiches; before that it was smoothies.). Homemade peanut butter olive oil granola, Greek honey vanilla yogurt, sometimes with a spoonful of homemade rhubarb compote, blackberry jam, or cinnamon-vanilla applesauce. Usually in a glass ramekin, sometimes layered in a jam jar and smuggled in my backpack to school.
Lunches for me are usually leftovers from the day before. Sometimes I will pick up a bagel and cream cheese, or a salad, from one of the campus cafes.
Dinners, it must be said, mostly involve my cravings, and I usually crave some sort of Asian or Italian meal. Sometimes I’ll read about a recipe, and want to make it (parmesan-squash cakes). Sometimes I’ll think about what we have on hand already, and should use up soon (French toast for dinner, or Greek salad because of that stack of pitas in the fridge). Some days I’ll think that we need to have a vegetarian meal (spinach-feta lasagna), because we’ve had a lot of meat lately (kalbi) or that we need something warm because it’s been cold outside (minestrone) or something soothing because one of us has been sick (sinigang). Or something very quick that’s both savory and comforting (adobo).
It’s funny that you mention diet restrictions because we do have them, but I haven’t thought about them in a long time. Josh and C and M are lactose-sensitive, so nothing with cream or cow milk. We try to eat things that taste good to us, and are good for us. We’re not always successful with that balance, but we try to balance it out over a week.
But most of the time, it is about craving. And time: what can I make in a half hour, an hour, sometimes two hours, that will fit my mood and the contents of our refrigerator and the constraints of bathtime for our little girls and our workload for the evening?
I’ve been thinking about your questions, for other reasons, as well. Like you, I have experienced a difficult event recently, though I hope you understand that I am not trying to equate them. I have thought about why you would ask your questions: how do you eat? what enables you to eat? What kind of control do you exert over this part of your life, and why? And I think you might be asking, at some level, how do you find the appetite? In the churning wake of trauma, how do we reach for the hunger that is, by definition, an urge towards life?
And I can tell you about weeks when I ate purely for fuel: a handful of almonds behind my closed office door, a circle of leftover crust from the girls’ morning toast, a few pieces of cold pasta at dinner. I know that I am lucky that I had eating options. But most of my energy went towards getting out of bed, walking down certain hallways, stubbornly clutching the cool mask of a normality that I hope I never have to forge again. How the hell to reach for anything else?
Miraculously, appetite returned: at first as tentative as the signs of spring, then inexorable as the tide, luminous as the full moon, seductive as the inside of a peach. If we ever get to spend more time together, I hope I can tell you how. Maybe I’ll have figured it out by then.
See, my mind keeps circling back to your very first question. You asked how I eat. I’ve talked about how I prepare to eat, and what I eat. All of that pales compared to the family that shares my table nearly every night. With them, I eat gratefully.
And I think you know something about this. Where and how and why I eat are actually the same…with love, with love, with love.
Readers: how do you eat? (See my previous post for more of E’s questions to get you going.) E and I would love to hear from you.