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IMG_5766I don’t expect you to feel sorry for me. Having trotted out my sad story at the weekend block party, I know better. I’ll just sit here by myself with my Albeeats-inspired beet-banana-molasses mousse, weeping into my fair-trade organic coffee, mourning the loss of my kitchen comrade, my fellow menu-planner and grocery shopper, my inspiration.

coverBut first, congratulations: my daughter Alexandra got a terrific job in New York at The Atlantic. Fantastic! Millennial kid leaves the nest, lands on feet in the big city. Woo hoo!! This is what my husband and I have worked toward all these years, assiduously raising and educating our children to take flight under their own power, to enter the so-called adult world with courage, integrity, ambition, humor, and enough skills to get in the front door. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Of course I’m proud. She’s earned this. She is a smart, beautiful and creative young woman, working in her chosen city for an organization she can respect with colleagues she can learn from. This is how her story begins. This is also the good news I can impart to friends and neighbors who want to catch up on the kids.photo7M4HQR5I

Mazeltov,” they say, “you must be so happy!”

Of course I’m happy. I’m happy for her, for her new roommates, for the lucky folk who get to work with her, and for me and my husband who can enjoy a bit more elbow room on the home front. (I also won’t mind her new employer picking up the tab for health insurance or delivering the paycheck with which she can buy her own groceries.)

But is it too much to ask that a mother’s feelings be recognized as slightly more complex? I’m going to miss her like crazy. Her yearlong stay after college graduation was a rare and unexpected gift, for she took pains to be the world’s best roommate — happy to accompany me on my suburban rounds, happy to fetch the odd bunch of cilantro forgotten at the market, happy to teach me (and write down the instructions) how to use Netflix on the TV. She led the household on a bold adventure into plant-based eating that has transformed my relationship to food, sharing with us the imaginative recipes and gorgeous plating she has parlayed into Instagram fame. Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 2.53.15 PM
She has been less successful in convincing my husband that every leftover, however small or unshapely, should be decanted from its serving bowl into an appropriately sized Tupperware — he would prefer to slap a piece of plastic wrap over the bowl and call it a day — but she has his undying gratitude for setting up the DVR to capture every single Perry Mason episode ever aired. She enhanced our lives and never once made us feel like a pair of early-to-bed old farts. You bet I’m going to miss her.

photo 2photo 1Every Sunday, we used to plan the week’s menu, hunkering down with cookbooks and foodgawker, pulling up new recipes to try, weaving in the bounty of the season and our mid-week CSA delivery, and accommodating Bill’s lingering fondness for meat and dairy. We were thrown for a bit of a loop by the week-long visit of my Australian cousin who dines exclusively on beef, butter and beer, but that’s another story. All this planning was new to me, and I confess I did not take to it without a certain amount of griping about loss of spontaneity, but the result was a significant reduction in daily stress (e.g., fewer futile skirmishes with the family, hoping for ideas and ending up back at square one: “What would you like for dinner?” “Oh, anything you make is fine.”), fewer trips to the grocery store, and lower food costs. Here’s the Asian veg & peanut noodle salad we had on May 21, from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg, page 71.

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Of course I’m going to miss her, but the loss is of more than my daughter. With her magnificent emergence into adulthood, I lose the illusion of still being in the juicy middle of my life. I see the circle of life wheeling around — the little kids sugaring up on block party cupcakes, the pre-teens off-site on a neighbor’s trampoline, the grown-up graduates and earnest new families, the vigorous seniors who are such reliable volunteers, and the wispy-haired elders — and have to acknowledge that I’m moving along the downward slope. I don’t mean moribund; I know I’m wise and vital, with a good long stretch ahead of me, god willing. But it is a transition, the ramifications of which aren’t quite covered by a congratulatory slap on the back.Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 4.16.50 PM

What to do? The best approach is not, I suspect, what I took the other night at a graduation party for Alexandra’s BFF Caroline Reese. I found myself speaking with one of Caroline’s friends from Princeton, an entrepreneurial senior who is marketing a line of “party proof” clothing and wanted to deliver a sample skirt to my daughter. I could try on the skirt myself, suggested the darling girl. “Maybe not,” I said. “I’m finding that certain things aren’t appropriate any more.” Fair enough, but I barreled on, blurting “Growing older is the weirdest fucking thing that’s ever happened to me” and very likely traumatizing this young woman whose only crime was being young.

photoBetter to put on my cowboy boots and get that pizza I built into this week’s menu underway. Yesterday’s tacos were pretty swell. I put chicken, cheese, and Greek yogurt out for Bill and Jadah, and everyone was happy. Including me.

Here’s to you, my beloved girl, my muse, my Alexandra Jane.

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The Antichrist

I am depressed about Soylent. Maybe it’s the future, in which case I’d like to check out right now. I know it’s not a joke because the New Yorker just gave it 6,000 words, about ten times more than the average parody, and because to my kids, with their ears ever tuned to the media, it’s old news. It is old news, another meal-in-a-bottle, another miracle powder offering a shortcut to longevity, but this time with traction.

In case you haven’t heard, Soylent is a powdered blend purported to contain all the nutrients needed to sustain human life, and it tastes, when mixed with water, like a cross between Cream of Wheat and Metamucil. To quote the website Soylent.me (“Free Your Body”):140512_r25001_p233

Soylent is a food product (classified as a food, not a supplement, by the FDA) designed for use as a staple meal by all adults. Each serving of Soylent provides maximum nutrition with minimum effort.

People are buying and drinking the stuff as we speak. The New Yorker calls it The End of Food, and that’s what really has me in a tailspin. In the beginning, writes Lizzie Widdicombe, three young men were living in a small San Francisco apartment, working on a technology startup that wasn’t going well.

They had been living mostly on ramen, corn dogs, and Costco frozen quesadillas — supplemented by Vitamin C tablets, to stave off scurvy — but the grocery bills were still adding up. Rob Rhinehart, one of the entrepreneurs, began to resent the fact that he had to eat at all. “Food was such a large burden.” 

imgresRight off the bat, I’m deep in cognitive dissonance. I understand anxiety about the cost of food, and the tiredness at the end of the day that leaves no room for meal prep. Not everyone enjoys tearing cilantro leaves off the stem one at a time, but resentment that one has to eat at all speaks of an alienation from all I hold sacred.

I also understand that feeding the world’s population is a whopping big problem we’re far from solving. One in six Americans are “food insecure” — millions of hard-working people, children and seniors who can’t always make ends meet and have to choose to go without food. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, upwards of 850 million people worldwide are suffering from chronic hunger. But let’s face it — 850 million people are not going to pony up $70/month for 21 pouches of unpronounceable ingredients.

Meanwhile, the methods we use to produce food on a large scale are ruinous. We spray pesticides on our fruits and vegetables like there’s no tomorrow, and now, according to a new study published in the journal Nature, rising carbon dioxide emissions are making staple food crops less nutritious. As for meat, “the present system of producing food animals in the United States is not sustainable,” understates Robert Martin, Director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, “and presents an unprecedented level of risk to public health and damage to the environment, as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise as food.”

Big, big problems, but Soylent?Soylent_green

The product is not, the company hastens to explain, ha ha, made of ground up humans as in the dystopian 1973 film. Scanning for additional word associations, I come up with soy, the tarnished workhorse of vegetable proteins, soil, about which enough said in an eating context, and lent — when Christians give things up. None of this is compelling.

Everybody suggested changing the name, Rhinehart told Widdicome. “Investors, media people, my mom.” But he liked the self-deprecating nature of the name, and the way it poked fun at foodie sensibilities:

“The general ethos of natural, fresh, organic, bright—this is the opposite.”

I’m not the only one in distress. Return of Kings blogger Pill Scout thinks that Rob Rhinehart is An Idiot — “a beta nerd and software developer with a clear bent for transhumanism and science fantasy. Nobody should be eating what he calls food.” Here, precisely, is what he calls food:

Complete-Soylent-Nutrition-Facts

 

 

Soylent, argues Rhinehart, is quick, cheap, nutritious, environmentally friendly (huh?) and “easier than food.” Because, as VICE blogger Monica Heisey explains,


0d778175af2eb31dadaff639b02cab84_vice_670You know what’s a complete waste of time, money, and effort? Eating. I mean, wouldn’t you rather just ingest a tasteless form of sustenance for the rest of your life and never have to go through that tedious rigmarole of opening and eating a premade sandwich or feasting on a pile of fried delicacies ever again?

 

Seriously. I mean, we could probably fit a couple of 27-inch iMacs in the space currently occupied by the dining room table, not to mention the kitchen. We could rent that sucker out. Sex is free, but, good grief, what a lot of time gets wasted getting down to business! Rhinehart tips his hand on that score.

Soylent is definitely a permanent part of my diet. Right now I only eat one or two conventional meals a week, but if I had any money or a girlfriend, I would probably eat out more often. 

In other words, if he had a life. Can you imagine Thanksgiving with no feast? Birthdays with no cake? Celebrations with no clinking of glasses filled with tasty spirits? What about give us this day our daily bread, even if it is gluten free? What about joy? Delight? Satisfaction?

No, I say. No to Soylent, yes to life.

We are most likely not, those of us within range of this post, suffering from chronic hunger. Due to the accident of our birth, we are among the luckiest people on the planet insofar as we have a roof over our head and enough to eat, so please — because we can — give us this day our crunchy toast, slathered with thick fig jam. Give us our basil, snipped from the potted plant on the windowsill, and the weird-ass durian we hacked open in the driveway for fear of the stench. Give us the harissa-spiced chickpeas with olives and raisins we prepared for the graduation party and the sweet, fresh pear whose juices still drip down our chin in a memory of childhood in Detroit.

Please? And thank you.IMG_5537

Food to Think About

My husband keeps a little notebook in the kitchen drawer in which he records the abundant malapropisms we hear in the course of our days. “It’s a mute point,” for example, “sleep depravity,” and “best to nip it in the butt,” which strikes me as the right thing to do with sleep depravity. My favorite — and the title of this long overdue post — comes from an engineer at Bill’s work who, startled by an unexpected suggestion, furrowed his young brow, clicked his automatic pencil a couple of times and said, “Hmm, that’s food to think about.”photo 3











I’ve been thinking about food more than usual for the past several months, thanks especially to my daughter Alexandra. She is my inspiration in the kitchen and on the interwebs, and will be yours too if you check out her stuff on Instagram and Tumblrphoto 4

For me, it started when Alexandra urged me to watch the documentary film, Forks Over Knives, which “examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.” I never have eaten much processed food, but I do like my Loch Duart salmon and brown butter double chocolate chip cookies. I like going out to nice restaurants and over to friends’ houses for dinner, and Thanksgiving feasts with the extended family, and cupcake parties with the neighborhood girls. Also — having lived through (if not subscribed to) the macrobiotic 1960s, the Stillman 1970s, the Scarsdale 1980s, the Atkins 1990s, and the Rachel Rays, Cupcake Wars, Iron Chefs, Paleos, and Diners Drive-Ins and Dives of the oughts and beyond — I feel as if 1) I’ve seen it all, 2) most is nonsense, and 3) life is way to short to be doctrinaire.

 

photo 4That said, I’m a happy convert to a plant-based diet. It may be no more sound than the latest eyewear trend in hippest Brooklyn, but I don’t think so. There’s solid science behind it, including the massive China Study, plus Michael Pollan’s wise counsel to “eat [real] food, mostly plants, not too much.” I prefer the term “plant-based” to “vegan,” though it amounts to the same thing: fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, no meat or dairy. It spares me direct complicity in the horrors of concentrated animal feeding operations (aka CAFOs), helps me save on groceries, dramatically improves my digestion, and makes me feel good.

Here’s what breakfast looks like:

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Overnight oats with chocolate, chia and berries, fresh fruit and carrot juice

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Beet-banana smoothie with 4-5 frozen bananas, a good chunk of roasted beet, fresh ginger, blackstrap molasses and water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch:

Veggie sushi, veggie bowl

Spicy sweet potato soup with cashew cream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner:

Tacos with black rice, white beans, salsa, purple cabbage and cilantro with caramelized plantains

 

Mushroom ragu over polenta

 

 

 

 

 

Now tell me that doesn’t look fabulous. There’s a lot more I want to share with you, but as you may have noticed I’ve had some trouble being reliable about blogging. That’s another new leaf to turn over, along with the kale: to write more often. Are you with me?

Home cooking

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The best thing my mother made was fried chicken. She would plug in her Sunbeam electric skillet — square with rounded corners, a black plastic beaver tail handle, and a domed lid made of thinner gauge aluminum that rattled tinnily when seated — and in it melt, I swear, four sticks of butter. She’d put flour, salt, and pepper into a brown paper bag, and my job was to drop the breasts, thighs, and drumsticks in the bag and, holding it closed in one fist, shake the bag like a tambourine until the pieces were thoroughly coated. Into the pan the chicken would go, its powdered white surfaces almost instantly overcome by noisy waves of swirling golden foam. I have no idea how long it cooked, or whether she covered the pan (it strikes me now that a lid would generate unwanted steam, certainly more than could escape from its  little pie slice vent), but the results were glorious.

il_fullxfull.297962321The other dishes in her repertoire, not so much. Hamburgers she would brown for just a minute or two in the Revere ware frying pan and then clap on the lid so they puffed up and steamed to death. Halibut entered the oven as a frozen rectangular brick and exited warm but still white and in much the same shape. For exotic, Mom made chop suey, with lots of celery.

The miracle is two-fold: one, that she cooked at all, and two, that she managed, in spite of a few lapses and America’s post-war love affair with TV dinners, to introduce me to real food — fresh vegetables, honest cheeses, and balanced, unprocessed meals — and to instill in me a welcoming curiosity about what bounty the world might provide.images

It can’t have been easy. Divorced at the age of 45 with a preschooler to feed and nothing in her disposition that might suit her to nursing or secretarial work, the other two choices, she became a teacher, earning $4,800/year. Our first apartment after the divorce was the second floor of a house in Birmingham, Michigan, that was covered in Spanish moss and owned by Mrs. Rogers, who smelled sour and had dark red horsehair couches in the room I’m sure she called a parlor. We had no kitchen, just a galley with a hotplate. Water came from the bathroom sink, and for refrigeration there was a porch. I remember milk, and watermelon, but Mom must have been depressed out of her mind, and the whole period is shrouded like the house in gray, coiling mystery.

Mom with jade pinIn time she renewed her capacity for delight. She loved Northern Spy apples, kumquats, young sweet corn, curries, tarragon, blueberries, trout, and caramel. Lightyears away from Brooklyn delis, she experimented with beef tongue and heart and kidneys. She steamed fresh artichokes and ate them in the kitchen, dipping each leaf into lemon butter and scraping its pale green pulp with her teeth. This was an astonishing sight to my friends in the neighborhood, at whose homes macaroni and cheese was the norm.Northern_Spy1

While there were days when I longed for mac and cheese in my own home, and for Coke  and chili dogs at the side of the road, I learned to appreciate her framework and am glad I never acquired a taste for soda or white bread. It’s not that I learned to cook from my mother: I lived on yogurt in college and was well into my 20s before I attempted to bake a potato. But she taught me to be open to taste and authenticity, and to fear no strangeness in the kitchen. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.images-1

Loose Ends

photoIt’s been a long time, I know. We haven’t spoken since Rob and Sharon got married, she with the diamonds on the soles of her shoes. Turns out my friend Karen is the “rich girl” in the song, but that’s another story. My phone is bulging with photos of food, and my mind keeps haphazard watch over an evolving list of topics — pork fennel dumplings in Toronto, our neighbor’s garden, Passover, fat flushing, sweet spinach pie, planning ahead, forks, Costco, etcetera, etcetera. People have asked, what’s with the blog? I’ll get to it, I say. I want to feel inspired. My son charitably describes me as “more of a writer than a blogger,” thus attempting to transpose my unreliability into something lofty. I’ll take it, but it’s bogus. Like eating too much being OK if you’re wearing elastic waist pants.

I hoped to burst back on the scene with a clever post — wise, witty and well documented. But I am at loose ends, so we’ll talk about that.

Being “at loose ends,” describes a vaguely unhappy sort of restlessness, an inability to dig in to things that need doing (paying bills, painting the bathroom trim) or even things that in another mood I would like to do (reading old New Yorkers, trying out a new recipe, blogging) threaded with guilt about not doing those things. Perhaps you know what I mean. It will pass, but there’s a stickiness here in the midst of it such that unpleasant sensations attach to each other like circus elephants holding trunk to tail in a long, disspiriting chain.images

People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down

I am at loose ends for a slew of reasons, first world problems but still. As usual, it’s a combination of intimate disconnects — feeling cut off from the people and activities that sustain me — and impotent distress about things over which I have no control, such as the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent week of drama, the Senate’s inaction on background checks. Fill in the blanks.IMG_2899

Closer to home, my work is spotty, my freelance clients wrapping up projects or on hold or on vacation or on to another freelancer. My darling daughter (in the yellow dress) is in the throes of her last semester of college and so stressed that she had to say, “Mommy, I love your emails but will you hold them for a couple of weeks?” I send her goat cheese and gluten-free Larabars by express mail, but hold the messages. My son has decided to go to grad school in Austin, Texas, and while I’m fantastically proud and happy for him — and Bill reminds me that we’ve been working toward this since the moment he was born, gradually taking down the parental scaffolding — Austin feels like a very, very long way away.

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Waaa! Nobody needs me! 

Meanwhile, a girl has to eat.

Comfort food is called for, but real comfort food requires a degree of intentionality I don’t have when I’m at loose ends. Macaroni and cheese, for example. You need the mac and the cheese and the better part of an hour to do it justice, and there I days when I have none of those on hand, so I graze on almonds and chocolate chips.photo (2)

Wiser folk, like my sister-in-law Joan, make chicken soup. She brought some over the other day in a Greek yogurt container, wrapped like a Japanese present in a beautiful embroidered tea towel from Williams Sonoma. All I had to do was heat it up in a bowl. Warmth and the bowl are key.photo

I’m feeling better now, so undertaking to tea-smoke chicken in the grill. Here’s the smoke packet: with equal proportions Russian Caravan tea (smoky, like Lapsang Souchong), uncooked rice and brown sugar, plus star anise, five-spice powder, and orange zest. We shall see. I think I’ll serve it with black rice and coconut-sesame sauce, in a bowl.

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P.S. The smoking was a bit of a fail. The air smelled nice around the grill while I pulled weeds from the patio, and in the end the tea-and-spice packet was satisfyingly toasted, but the chicken, though juicy, didn’t have the slightest hint of smoke or orange or anise. So I juiced the orange into coconut milk with a splash of Siracha for a sauce and all was well. photo

The preliminary title of this post was Seudat Mitzvah, but Sharon’s shoes, as you will soon see, were too fabulous not to have top billing. First, the food. This from The Jewish Chronicle:

The priority Jews place on food in our communal celebrations … comes from a central religious tenet called the seudat mitzvah, a commanded meal, which is required after celebrations and life cycle events. Meals served after weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and even funerals are all considered to be occasions requiring a seudat mitzvah. The priority of food after an important occasion in Judaism is not about feeding people per se; it is about sharing an event in your life with the whole community. Mourners should not grieve alone and celebrants should not celebrate alone; the commandment is on the entire community to be with the people undergoing a significant moment whether it is significant to just one family or to the entire community.  Meals are seen as the natural post-experience gathering place in Judaism and the role of the seudat mitzvah is a central one in Jewish communal life.

I like it, despite the slightly jarring implications of obligatory feast. And even more than the concept, I liked the seudat mitzvah–aka brunch–that my family and I enjoyed at Rob and Sharon’s wedding. Rob, you may remember, is gifted and generous cook, so it came as no surprise that the wedding was not just celebrated by food but wrapped in it. Food is life, and it’s right that all our special occasions be marked by the sharing of food with a community of friends. Bill and I were married in our backyard, 25 years ago, and the food still shines in memory.

We gathered last Sunday at 11am in a private dining room at the Wayne Hotel, mingling with the other guests and snagging proffered mimosas and champagne from the circulating wait staff (I was grateful to be served Pellegrino in a wine glass, not the usual clunky tumbler) and eyeing beautifully plated appetizers on a counter. In-laws fretted briefly about certain teenagers getting ahead of themselves by noshing on the apps, but lo–we were invited to partake, even before the ceremony! Caprese bites, smoked salmon, pastries, yogurt parfait with raspberry preserves, duck balls, ricotta cheese bread pudding, pineapple and melon, each one as distinctively pretty as high-end sushi.

Thus satisfied, we were then invited to gather around for the wedding ceremony itself. Sharon in sparkling lace and Rob in a smart gray J. Crew suit stood together beneath a soft cotton chuppah with the rabbi, who explained everything. “The chuppah symbolizes the home Rob and Sharon will have together.” Looking up, she said, “this one looks like it might be from the kitchen.”

“It’s Indian,” said the mother of the bride.

Prayers and blessings ensued, sung in Hebrew and translated, wine was sipped, vows were exchanged, and rings placed on fingers, though the bride’s knuckle, recently sprained at the gym, proved a challenge. We guests stood beaming, aquiver with happiness for these two friends, while they took the leap of faith we call marriage. Then Rob stomped on a wineglass, a ritual variously interpreted as a reminder that even in times of great joy that there is sadness; that although the couple came together as a single union, the world as a whole is broken and needs mending; and that just as the glass is forever changed, so is the couple. At which point we all shouted “Mazeltov!”

A pearly paper scroll lay at each of our places with the words Congratulations Sharon and Rob! running along the edge. Were this a different kind of wedding, one might have expected this scroll to be some kind of souvenir, perhaps a reprint of the wedding vows. But no, it was a menu, and a fine one at that. My Scottish salmon was deliciously strewn with slivers of green grapes, almonds and teeny tiny florets of toasted cauliflower. Bill got the Eggs Benedict, with the poached eggs perfectly jiggly. If you look very closely, you will see that Bill is wearing his wedding tie.

All this time, a flower-bedecked white cake had been perched on the sideboard, so smooth and flawless that, abandoning all I know about Rob and Sharon, I entertained no hope for its taste. I was so wrong. This was a fake cake in what turns out to be a fairly common wedding practice, that of substituting a fondant clad, styrofoam prophylaxis for the real deal and thus, as they say, having one’s cake and eating it too. For the ritual cutting of the cake, the bride and groom sliced into the one real corner of the stand-in, shared a [real] piece, and had their picture taken. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the staff was cutting pieces of a delicious, honest-to-goodness cake with chocolate mousse filling and hazelnut buttercream. The coffee was first rate too. What a great day!

The official photos haven’t come through yet, but here’s an incomplete portrait of the extended family. Not for the first time, Rob is wondering where Sharon’s mother has got to.

Are you ready for Sharon’s fabulous shoes? Like Rob’s new suit (“You are not getting married in pleated pants!”), the shoes were mandated by Rob’s daughter Hadley, she of the blue dress and cocked eyebrow in the top row. Ta na na, ta na na na. She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes.

Three friends have died within the last six weeks, I think. It could be more. I say this with uncertainty because I’ve only just now stumbled into the news about two of them on Facebook, of all the godforsaken ways to find out, and there’s no way of knowing what else I have missed. The shock of their deaths is compounded by the shock of not having known, and by not having said goodbye.

Willy-nilly, through the tears and regret, I’ve been thinking about the food I shared with these friends–and  how food mirrors life itself. Both are glorious, challenging and diverse beyond measure. Both are ephemeral; here today, gone before you can say itadakimasu.

Carole was mild in manner and coloration, a soft-spoken woman of whom it was wise to assume had the heart of a tiger. I didn’t know her well, or long enough–we met in the crucible that was the Obama campaign of 2008, powering through thousands of phone calls on the strength of a doughnut and a few stale bottles of water–but well enough to recognize in her a radiant being. Her husband had been sick; he was the one we were worried about. The last time I saw her was on a Thursday at Tung Chen Grocery, where she was stocking up on tofu delivered fresh that day along with bahn mi and bánh tro to those who knew it was there. We smiled at our little secret.

Domingo was my landlord for five days in 2008, when he gave us his 9th Street storefront for use as a Get Out The Vote office. There were more than a few degrees of separation between the Dominican businessman and this white lady volunteer from the suburbs, but in that 5-day lifetime we became what I can only call soulmates. It didn’t matter that I never knew much about him, nor he of me; we had trust and a tremendous fondness for each other, and that was enough.

He came running into the office on the Sunday before the election, waving his arms and insisting that I come right that minute to the church down the street. Outside the big red doors of St. Paul’s, a woman was telling the exiting parishioners they would be bad Catholics if they voted Democratic. The priest rolled his eyes discreetly heavenward, and Domingo and I handed out Obama stickers to the grateful crowd. On Election Day, while I was busy wrangling hundreds of volunteers, he caused several dozen pork and turkey sandwiches to appear at the office.

Domingo was a deacon at St. Paul’s, and in the years that followed, he introduced me to the tamale stand that pops up between masses and to the fundraising dinners at the parish hall where for $5 you can load up a plate with pulled pork and beans and corn and tostones and flan and coconut cake. I would make a pie or a batch of cookies and drive over to 9th Street, knowing I would find him there at one of his businesses. The last time I saw him I was canvassing near his house, and he invited me and my friend Jess inside to meet his wife. Jess spoke with her in Spanish, I waved, and Domingo showed us around his gorgeous three-story brownstone that in Manhattan would cost $6 million. There were signs of a recent child’s birthday party–crepe paper, deflating balloons. He sent us off with a slab of cake apiece. He had cancer.

And then there was my friend Doc, a brilliant, audacious man who in August lost his struggle with depression. Doc was guy you could connect with on a lot of dimensions–baseball, Unitarian Universalism, Bruce Springsteen, kids. With me and Doc, it was the Red Sox—not that I know anything about baseball, but I am from Boston and my husband is a fan and that was way more than enough for Doc. He showed up at my door one day with a Red Sox jacket he’d found at Goodwill.

We also shared an interest in John Updike, and thanks to Doc’s initiative we spent an evening in Harrisburg, in the august seats of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, listening to Updike explain why James Buchanan was not the worst president of all time. 

But most of all, with me and Doc, it was food. He wasn’t fussy. As with everything else, if it was fun and with friends, he loved it. Doc learned that I had a knack for sushi, and the next thing I knew he had acquired a sushi-making kit and was clamoring for a shopping list and a guest appearance at his house. This was Doc as I knew him—an enthusiast, grabbing hold of an idea, wrapping his arms tight around it, and charging ahead with a fervent devotion that captivated everyone in his path.

I should have worn a kimono; he would have thought that was fabulous, and launched into a narrative Q&A designed to teach the kids something about Japanese fashion of the Heian period. As it was, there was plenty of discussion about just what constitutes sushi (it’s the vinegared rice, not the raw fish); the architecture of it—either rolled on a membrane of dried seaweed, or shaped in the palm to form quail’s egg-sized balls of rice draped with little quilts of fish; the aesthetics, though we made a pretty big mess of the kitchen; and of course, the eating of it, which was also messy.

I didn’t know then that for me and Doc, that was the last supper. I didn’t know I wouldn’t see Carole again after that Thursday at the market, or Domingo after he wrapped up the birthday cake. One doesn’t, usually. Which is why—as I’m learning so very slowly that I have to admit to resistance—every moment we have together is important. 

I am in many ways a bad friend. I get busy and then neglectful. I take it for granted that there will always be another chance to pick up the phone, but there isn’t, always. I am trying to make up for lost time by renewing some of the relationships I’ve let slide–by making amends, by writing to cousins and college friends, by telling my kids more often than usual that I love them more than I can ever say, and by remembering to give thanks for everyone and everything involved in the process of bringing food to my table. Thank you to the cooks and the farmers, the shoppers, clerks and truck drivers, the rain and the sun, the chickens and the broccoli. And thank you to those with whom I have shared a meal. Itadakimasu, yo.

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