Feed What You Can
I had an awesome sourdough starter in my former life, given to me by an old friend. It was super active, and delicious. It died when I got divorced, and lost that friendship, too. Sometimes I tell this story like it is an old wives tale when I teach fermentation classes, to demonstrate that real food is alive. This jovial personification of the sourdough usually makes people laugh, in the relatable way that you want people to laugh when you are teaching. Mind you, the exact timing of the sourdough starter’s life and death did not coincide perfectly with the union and dissolution of my relationships, but the story is effective because it helps people understand that fermentation (and many other food crafts) require attention, and care. The starter did not die because my life as I knew it ended. It died because I neglected it when my world turned upside down. And similarly, my world turned upside down because me and mine did not feed our relationships well. Plain and simple. Some readers have been elated, some surprised, and a couple confused about my connection of what is perceived as personal to what is perceived as simple reporting on food. I could expound on this for days, but I will simply state that food is inextricably connected to everything. That is why it is important. Connect it via metaphor or strict physical biology, but connect it all the same. It is almost always rewarding in some way or another.
I hardly cooked a thing last week, which is why I am late with this post. I was too busy enjoying my family. I took my two kids on a weeklong trip to my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I was also carefully reading William Saletan’s article on Slate about GMOs. I tackled that in between pool jumping, seeing The War on Drugs live, starting in on Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, and eating mama’s Mississippi Mud Cake. At first, I felt the pull to deal with GMOs, and that article in a post, but I’m leaving it to the twitterers, because what I really want to say is about family.
It was emotional to drive through Kentucky countryside, to be near my original people, and watch cousins play together, to paint nails and sip gin with a sister-in-law, and to commiserate on love and loss with my stepbrother. And to laugh! So much laughing. I have spent a long time wishing for this feeling of family, ever since my marriage failed and the sense of community that came with it slipped away. Oh, how we love to belong. To have everyday-folk and always-people.
I found myself walking around the house videotaping my family one night last week. Why? Because it was joyful, and I wanted to remember the play fighting and wrestling, the sliced tomato and pulled brisket, and the loud belly laughing happening in every room. There was the smell of dinner dishes being washed, and there was my last remaining grandparent, who has diminished quite noticeably since I last saw her. She was sitting in the corner, watching everything, and laughing like a child. My two little boys were laughing too, running and hollering, up and down the stairs, and dangling gleefully from grandparents' tickling arms. And I remember thinking: look what you have here, girl. After all.
I am guilty of moments when I am blind to what I still have. I admit it. I spend most of my time far away from my family, because I live in North Carolina. I miss them, and I feel isolated from them. I value them more since my personal tragedy played out in embarrassing drama, and they quietly and staunchly moved closer together, and said a lot of right words. Many old wounds opened for my family when my life went belly up. But in the end, it has brought us closer. We’ve admitted things, and shown fears, and love has been asked for in true, tough iterations, and delivered every time in different ways. I value them more as a result, and so I miss them more, and since I do my everyday without them, I get a nagging, useless feeling every once and a while that I have failed at family, and that my attempt to create the family I wanted was a flop. But this visit changed all that. I still have a lot, and now that we have some distance from this huge event that was hard as nails, my family is better. Happier. More real and more fun. Perhaps all the things we used to bellyache about don’t matter anymore. We’re hip to what is important, and that is some serious glue for families. Now, I can more easily focus on promising things. I can see what has not ended at all. I can see what needs feeding. I can still be a part of keeping joy alive, and perhaps someday I’ll have another go at some everyday-and-always-folk.
Now I’m home, missing people again. Wishing for more. But, being so far away, and being so thankful for having looked right at what I have, I am content with the realization that having people at all, and having connections in your life that are worth missing is a sweet, delicious luxury. So today, I built another sourdough starter. I felt compelled to do this after my trip, and after reveling in the realization that there is so much happy work to be done in order to keep the good things alive. The family that I do have is well, and whatever family I hope to create in the future will take loving craft and attention. Feed what you can. Focus on this, for it is past all regrets. Do whatever you can do to believe in another chance. This starter will be stronger than the last.
I did cook on one occasion, for the good and lovin' family:
The recipe used a lot of what I had in my CSA box (and I had ratatouille leftover to dole out to the folks.)
Next week I’m going to deal with all these leftover beets, and carrots, and potatoes. Laws, I have potatoes!