Reverb10 -- December 26 -- Soul Food
Prompt: What did you eat this year that you will never forget?
What went into your mouth & touched your soul?
Reading this prompt, I shuddered. I'm really not comfortable talking about food. Somewhere along the way, I overdosed on these discussions. See, in my family people talked about the number of Weight Watchers points piled on their styrofoam plates even as they headed back to the kitchen for seconds. During carefully crafted light lunches of chicken salad and celery hearts, discussions centered around cravings for the night's dinner which often ended up being a medley of favorite items from various fastfood restaurants. Weekly weigh-ins were a regular feature and trophies for reaching certain goal weights adorned the shelves belonging to the adults with whom I lived. These trophies collected dust next to the Richard Simmons "Deal A Meal" game pieces and Diabetes Association cookbooks. I've a long and twisted relationship with food. I know I need to work through it, but it is the last thing I'd choose to volunteer information about.
And so, as it often does, fate gets the last laugh. As a person living with a gluten intolerance, food now has to be a topic of daily conversation. I must investigate the ingredients and preparation techniques at every restaurant and friend's house. Even with strings of endless questions and the help of some very caring servers and chefs, I find myself sick more often than not when dining outside of my home. Absolutely frustrated by the pattern of walking out of restaurants and feeling my stomach already voicing its displeasure, I knew things had to change.
This year I chose to stay home more often and found myself quickly bored with my household's usual menu options. I set about learning to make the foods I once loved to eat at restaurants and the meals I'd not had since saying good riddance to gluten. Fortunately, my wonderful partner has been an energetic and adventurous co-chef during these trials. There's no one bite that comes to mind when I think about the year, there are instead hundreds.
Each week we headed to the farmers' market unsure what new things the farmers would have at their booths. Nearly every Saturday morning we came home with something we'd not tried before- often it was something we'd not even seen. Turning to our cookbooks and favorite food bloggers, we researched tips and techniques before heading into our kitchen with these new foods. Dandelion greens, chanterelles and shallots, kohlrabi, fresh oyster mushrooms, christmas lima beans, ground cherries, and broccoli greens are just a few of these flavorful finds. We came home with bags stuffed with these riches and more. Our favorite farmers' market closed for the season over a week ago, and I'm already in withdrawal. I'm so grateful for the farmers that kept our plates filled with colorful and naturally grown produce for much of this year. When the market reopens in April, I'll be there with arms filled with bags, skipping from booth to booth wearing a giant smile.
Our table wasn't just decorated with these beautiful vegetables and fruits this year. The experiments branched out beyond these healthier options. I baked loaves of fresh bread and experienced the joy of eating homemade bread for the first time in years. There were muffins, cornbreads, cakes - and they were vegan, gluten free and delicious. I tasted a fresh mozzarella that melted in my mouth and left me in awe. We made pizzas and relished the joy of topping them as we chose. There were dishes of macaroni and "cheese," butternut squash harvest casseroles and soups that we'd be proud to serve to any guest. My pride and joy was a pumpkin pie, handmade for the first time without store bought crust.
Looking back, I understand that we invited joy into our kitchen this year. Much to my delight, it came right in, rolled up its sleeves and made itself at home. Sometimes I feel it as I'm slowly chopping an onion into perfectly sized tiny bites. Other moments it is holding our shoulders as we sample the first steaming bite of a new dish or dance in front of the stove. And yes, joy is still there chuckling in the corner when I shatter a Pyrex measuring cup on the stone tiled floor. Perhaps with joy in the kitchen and at our table, I'll find more comfort talking about food. I now see that it is much more than something to simply be counted and portioned, it is something to be celebrated and shared.