Ready to eat? Skip To Recipe
October is my birthday month and this week, after coming down with a cold, I felt a little pain in the back of my jaw. I chalked it up to my swollen glands until yesterday, when I finally peered into the oral darkness with my flashlight and discovered: a wisdom tooth.
I made my partner gaze into the inky abyss, and he said it was like a horror movie. A hideous new growth in a very private corner of my body. I ran out of the dental office in my 20s before the receptionist could schedule me for wisdom tooth removal and now I am reaping the gruesome reward. The Freddy of teeth. Rosemary’s Tusk. The Dental Descent.
I am freshly 43 and my body has created a tooth from calcium and meat of gum and gawd knows what else. Wisdom?
I do not feel wise. Wiser, maybe, but not wise. And since I know we all know what’s happening in the world right now, a humanitarian crisis the likes of which we may not have seen in our lifetime but which, to me at any rate, feels horrifically familiar (antisemitism, anti-Arab everything, a war that’s forcing folks to choose imaginary sides), I think this is a good time to acknowledge my shortcomings, wisdom tooth or no. What I don’t know could fill 1,000 libraries and what I do know, that nonviolence is the way forward, doesn’t seem to be much help. I also know that a lot of my Arab and Jewish friends are especially fearful and hurting right now. I am trying to support them, to listen, to be part of the solution rather than another squawking, ignorant voice in Life’s great peanut gallery.
The other thing I am doing is taking care of myself. And my loved ones. But honestly, I’m a carer, so making sure to include myself in caregiving is a lot harder for me than focusing on others.
When I am experiencing big emotions, I don’t eat well, or at all. I am learning, as I get older (Oh, tooth of wisdom, show me the way!), how to better manage what I suppose would be labeled as anxiety and depression, but it takes time to undo thirty-plus years of mismanagement. And sometimes there are external forces at work that push me—us—into a state of anxiety, fear, and despair, no matter how well-adjusted we are.
I know full well that food is not where everyone finds comfort or inspiration and that my attempts, however tongue-in-cheek, to address pain through cooking are feeble, wishful, and at a time like this, idiotically simplistic. That’s not what I set out to do with this blog. My only prompt has always been to write what’s in my heart, but that stupid organ always leads me in the direction of culinary healing. And I am often ashamed of this instinct.
I read John Birdsall’s brilliant newsletter this morning (seriously, how does he do it? It’s humbling), in which he examined his own early writer’s inclination to take a complex social situation and write it up in a nice little package tied together with a heartwarming food-themed resolution. It doesn’t work. It’s sentimental. And readers don’t like being spoon fed pablum.
And as I tumbled down this rabbit hole I bumped into an article called “How to Be a Living Poem” about the indomitable poet Lucille Clifton, and how she drew on both intellect and intuition in her poetry because, as she put it, “a poem, it’s about a whole human and speaks to the whole human and it has to come from a whole human, so you involve all of yourself.” And then I read this:
“Poetry can heal. Because it comes from a heart, it can speak to another heart…Somebody asked me why is it that I want to heal the world. I want to heal Lucille Clifton! And fortunately, I am very human just like all the other ones, all the other humans.”
There it is! That’s what I’m aiming for. But poet’s do it so much better. Read Clifton’s poem “1994” and tell me she’s not right (I was going to reproduce it here, but I think that may be illegal).
So, okay, I’m not a brilliant poet or writer. I’m not even a brilliant cook. But maybe this is Clifton allowing me to forgive myself for pouring herb salt on depression and hot caramel on my fear. Maybe, as long as I avoid pap and rank sentimentality and tidy resolutions, I can offer myself—you—us—a little culinary comfort. Maybe not. But my pain is your pain and yours is mine and I feel this so deeply at times it’s like being swallowed, and I refuse to be consumed. I know we are in this together. We can’t all be swallowed in one fell swoop. We are many and mighty.
And the mighty must eat. If you want to keep getting out of bed and loving your people and doing what you can to make this messy world better, you have to eat. And if you’re like me, feeding yourself in times of crisis can be hard.
I want to remind you that your body needs you, and you need to feed it. Feed it anything, things you love, things that bring comfort, simple stuff you can eat straight from the package or the can or the jar. Don’t judge yourself. Ditch all that moral hoo-ha we attach to what we put in our bodies. Fuck. That. Noise.
While I was sick, I cooked a big batch of kitchen sink soup for my lunches and a cast iron skillet of arroz con pollo for dinner. It was an attempt at this cook-through-your-pain mantra of mine, but I was so addled and preoccupied that I cremated the onions in my soup and added too much rice and too little water to my arroz. Then I overcompensated by adding too much water too late in the game. Now I have a soup that tastes like burning and a mountain of mushy arroz. I should have stuck to opening cans.
But dessert in our house is never an issue, and I’ll tell you why.
For all the years that I made fancy chocolates for a living, for all the recipes I publish here and the testing and reading and cooking I do at home, the most popular dessert for me and my partner, the thing we eat most often, is a spoonful of peanut butter with a few Guittard Supercookie chocolate chips on top. If we’re feeling gourmet, we drizzle on some honey. That’s it. During the hours between dinner and bedtime and sometimes late into the night, in times of crisis and times of peace, you will find one or both of us standing over the kitchen counter, spoon in hand.
This is the recipe I offer you today: Peanut butter, chocolate chips, maybe honey, and a spoon.
Because I’m exhausted, and maybe you are too. Because I only offer recipes here that I’m actually making and eating (that’s the only way I can make free recipes sustainable anyway), and right now I’m not making much. Because dessert is comforting. Because this is a little something beyond basic nourishment, but not by much.
If peanut butter’s not your thing, maybe it’s cinnamon toast (that’s my mother’s go to). Or a bowl of cereal or a handful of Haribos or chips or popcorn or a pickle in the fridge. Maybe you like to stand in front of the open fridge door blankly eating cheese (hello kindred spirit). The “recipe” is for you to feed yourself. Feed yourself something you really like. Allow yourself some pleasure.
We’ll tackle the big stuff, but first:
- Walk to kitchen.
- Grab spoon.
- Plunge spoon into nearest jar of nut butter.
- Press chocolate chips on top, consider drizzle of honey, maybe salt.
- Insert in mouth, eat, repeat.
Take care of yourself.