Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cooking Lessons

It all started the summer before sophomore year, in summer school biology.  We got to choose whether we would disect kittens, or pig fetuses.  Pig FETUSES?  Baby pigs that never got to see the light of day?  It was an impossible choice, and so I elected to sit out of the assignment entirely.  Still, we were required to be present in the classroom when everyone else was hacking up their mammal, and the sight of one of my classmates draping pig intenstines around her neck like jewelry is forever imprinted in my mind.  Since then, I've developed a distaste for eating pork in particular.

But, I married a chef.  A chef whose favorite animal to eat and cook with was the pig.  Just about every part of a pig is edible.  "Everything but the oink," Willie says.  No matter how much I disliked seeing carcus in my kitchen, it came with the marriage territory and most frequently, it was a pig.  Ben always said that cooking pork was a special skill.  He said it was one of the most versatile sources of meat, but also the easiest to mess up and overcook.

So, when I volunteered to host a holiday dinner party at my house this December it seemed only right that I should be in charge of the main dish, a roasted stuff pork loin.  In the wake of my newfound cooking independence, this dish and this party would be my crowning achievement. 

In the process of marriage and cooking, I learned a few lessons:

1.  Explore your local produce section. 

Don't be afraid of vegetables.  If you poke around a little you'll find there's much more to experience than you ever realized.  I elected to roast my little piggy on a bed of root vegetables including onions, carrots, parsnips, and rutabagas.  Not so very long ago I didn't even know what a parsnip was.  I don't feel so bad now, knowing that the grocery clerk didn't either.  Most of us don't know what's out there.  Most of us would just eat carrots.  But I have learned the joys of seeking adventure. 

That's a life rule, not to be limited to the grocery store.  As I find myself traveling in this new job I'm discovering more and more how afraid I am to lose my way, and how much I rely on my directions to keep me on the beaten path.  I'm terrified of getting lost.  But if you don't get lost once in a while, I suppose you won't find anything that doesn't find its way to you.  Taking risks, taking the road less traveled, if you will, can lead to unexpected delight. 

Upon a diagnosis like the one we received for Gabriel, over 90% of parents let their fear of the unknown guide them.  They let their fear of not being able to love their child despite his foreign  appearance convince them to do the irreversible.  If I could speak to a parent standing where I stood nearly two years ago, I would tell them, "This journey is worth the risk. "

Take a chance. 

2.  Don't be afraid of butter, salt, or most of what people tell you that you can't handle.

The thing is, you're probably going to end up trying it anyway.  No one knows what's good for you like you do.  You know what's right.  So trust what you know.

For many years I was taught to stifle my feelings.  Play hard to get.  Honesty = desparation = losing.  But I can say with all honesty now that the old cliche is true:  It's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.  I can say that I've taken chances and sometimes they've been unrequited, but it can't really be said that I've let an opportunity for something I really wanted pass me by.  When I want something - salt, butter, someone, my son - I go for it.  I'm not afraid to say anymore that I want love, and that I will go in search of it no matter what threatens me.

3.  Don't buy rosemary in the store.

If you just take a minute to look around, rosemary is probably right there in front of you, in that little planter in the parking lot.  I snagged some from the Foods Co parking lot yesterday, having noted that it was nearly $2 for a bunch of it in the store.  If you take it from the planter, it's fresher, more potent, and it'll grow back in a blink. 

When you take the time to look around, you'll probably notice that much of what you're searching for is right in front of you. 

4.  Food is meant to be shared with friends and family.

It's hard to make friends as an adult.  When we're kids, we're forced into these situations where we meet new people and for the sake of survival, must make friends.  As adults, we're so busy with our own lives and less and less compelled to be friends with the people we interact with, that making friends becomes much harder, but also much more rewarding.  We choose our friends as adults, and that makes our friendships that much more meaningful. 

Elise, Lindsey and Blake are the best things to come out of my divorce.  Until my holiday dinner party, I hadn't had so many people in my house since Gabriel's funeral.  But because my new friends, all of whom I knew before my divorce but all of whom also have become my shoulders to lean on, my true friends, since my split, my house was filled once again with life and laughter. 

My continuing friendship with Ben, who lives across the country, who I havent seen in nearly six months, with whom I share no living children and who I have few reasons to speak to now, is also voluntary.  I choose to keep talking to him, because I choose to recognize that for all that went wrong, Ben has contributed largely to the person I am today.  He made me a mother.  He made me a wife.  He made me a divorcee.  And he made me the kind of girl who shops for parsnips.  He broke what was left of my heart after Gabriel died but he confirmed for me what my broken heart already knew - Vegetables, and life, are worth taking chances on.  They may hurt going down, but they are worth the risk. 


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