This isn't going to be an article with pretty words describing lofty ingredients and hard to find flavors. This isn't going to be a litany of adjectives describing my charmed life nor the sumptuous food at my perfectly set table.
This is going to be an open essay that exposes a soreness of my heart - a bruise at the core of my existence with which I sometimes struggle to come to terms. I don't care who reads my story - the entire world or just myself. It is my world to share or to guard carefully, my existence to question or to celebrate, and certainly my pain, always just below the surface of my bubbly exterior, that I labor to carry through this life.
Sometimes my pain gets too heavy. Sometimes I need to lay it down. Often, I search for relief in the wrong places, setting forth false expectations, and before I realize it, weight is added to that pain, and I find myself forced to struggle onwards with a slightly heavier burden.
My life today is such a beautiful one. I look around me and marvel at how I got to this surreal point of stability and happiness.
But, there are times when I am forced to reckon with realities that exist from various elements of my life. A thesaurus would struggle to find like words that have easy connections to describe factions of my world...and the list that would be typed out would be a jumble of synonyms and antonyms alike.
I carry around so many adjectives that describe who I am to people with titles like mothers and fathers...sisters and brothers. I am "half". I am "step". I am "in-law". I am "significant" ...but usually only in words, not in deeds.
There are times when I allow myself to forget the medley of human natures in this world. I want to believe that arms are always open wide, ready to envelop me within them as if I were an unconditional part of a whole, not just a temporary fragment...a patch. There are times when I forget how easy it is to be "a means to an end". I am, by nature, a "giver", not a "taker". And, oh how I have been reminded of the consequences of that characteristic more times than I care to confront.
I am not writing today to capture the beauty of my life in food, in aromas, or in photographs. My writing today is a personification of injury that gently slips its way around my heart when I am least expecting it and then squeezes tightly to remind me that I am a "part of a part", "a means to an end", "only a remnant of an ending".
But, then there is this one consistency in my life. I walk into my current world and there is this man, with beautiful green eyes, that takes one look at me. With one look, he sees right through the halves, the parts, and the pains.
And...he just sees me...the other half of his whole.
Knowing that my heart went on a journey that resulted in moments of tight squeezes, he stands there, ready for me to tumble into his arms, in a kitchen filled with aromas of braised meat, red wine, savory onions, and hints of sweet cinnamon.
In a tangle of deliciousness, a complex stew of braised beef with red wine and winter vegetables is waiting patiently for me to enjoy. A meal that is made of layers of flavors that mirror the overlapping emotions that stack within me. A touch of richness that soothes the soul, rights the wrongs, and satisfies a hunger for closure to specific injury.
This man, who chose me and no one else in this world, often takes my breath away with acts of kindness that I have learned to not anticipate from the world at large.
He is my other half. He is my "soft place to fall at night".
So along with the savory tastes in life, come the sometimes sour notes but then are wonderfully replaced by the sweet tones. Like these little spice cakes, made in my favorite cast iron mould, that have shapes of falling leaves and fat round turnips. It's a heavy and solid mould that has a comforting connection to the past. These simple little spice cakes have basic ingredients but always promise age-old flavors of warming spices.
These cakes are certainly comfort food. The aromas while baking and the flavors while eating, especially with a dollop of thick chewy fig jam are soul soothing.
I'll continue to work hard this season to soothe my tousled heart, by being reminded by my husband of the words from a very wise man. There are moments in life when I need to visit and revisit and visit these passages, calm my simmering thoughts, take deep cleansing breaths and read the simple but profound insights offered by a simple man to all of mankind:
“No matter what activity or practice we are pursuing, there isn't anything that isn't made easier through constant familiarity and training. Through training, we can change; we can transform ourselves. Within Buddhist practice there are various methods of trying to sustain a calm mind when some disturbing event happens. Through repeated practice of these methods we can get to the point where some disturbance may occur but the negative effects on our mind remain on the surface, like the waves that may ripple on the surface of an ocean but don't have much effect deep down."
-- Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness
Labels: beef stew, beef stew in red wine, beef stew with roasted butternut squash, beef with winter vegetables, braised beef stew, fall breads and muffins, spice cakes, spice muffins