Twenty children and six teachers and administrators were slaughtered in a school one state away from me on Friday. Who has words for this? And what does that wordless atrocity possibly have to do with food?
On Friday afternoon, a company executive asked me: "I realize Delish isn't political or current events-oriented, but do you think this situation is blog appropriate for it?" I thought no. Too disconnected. Potentially exploitive; self-serving. "Off brand," as we like to say in corporate dodge speak. How could this unimaginable act of violence against first graders possibly connect to a web site about recipes, cooking, and food news?
So why can't I stop crying and cooking?
Friday night required French fries. My boys, ages 11 and 5, devoured them with a chocolate milkshake, stunned and delighted by the junk-food, vegetable-free festival that greeted them at the end of the day.
"What's the matter mom?" they asked, aghast and thrilled, then segued into a dance party to "Dynamite" and "Call Me Maybe." Have you ever watched an overtired almost-6-year-old child dance, unabashed and uncontrolled? Pop up, spin down, mouth the words, use grand arm gestures, intensely need a drink and snack, then return to the floor fueled by the never-ending ability to jump? He exhausted me, and I was grateful.
Saturday, sleepless and foggy, I was at the grocery store by 6:30am. I'm at home in those aisles, reading labels and pulling together ingredients for meals I cook without instructions. There was much to prepare for the day ahead: Ground beef, pork, and veal for the basis of a Bolognese, which I stirred on low heat for ten hours, along with all the oregano, basil, garlic, bay leaves, top-quality olive oil, and imported canned tomatoes I could carry. The sauce was served atop egg pappardelle with fresh aged Parmesan and parsley, along with wine too good for an ordinary weekend. But before that, for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, fresh potatoes and onions for latkes (it was the last night of Hanukkah) and five different apples for homemade sauce.
Then there was chicken to roast with Yukon gold potatoes, fennel, shallots, and peppers; yellow rice and black beans steeped in diced jalapeños to be served below an avocado and lime salad; beef marinated in parsley, garlic, balsamic, lemon juice, and rosemary for Kebabs -- I'll grill those tonight. Late on Saturday, while I stirred, chopped, diced, cleaned, and tasted, they read the twenty kids' names. One is the same as my younger son's. I pulled him into the kitchen and gave him ice cream for no reason at all.
Sunday yielded breakfast pancakes, arugula pesto, lasagna made from the deeply infused meat sauce and fresh mozzarella, kale salad pierced with lemon, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan slivers.
I tasted everything. I ate nothing. I reflected on the stunning acts of violence I had lived alongside of during the last decade plus: Nine months pregnant in Times Square on September 11, shocked yet far from Columbine, untouched by Oklahoma City, scared but oddly immune from the Aurora shootings, then physically overwhelmed by Newtown. Because I have little kids? Because I rush out of the school drop-off to get to the office, or often don't take them to school at all? Because I no longer believe they're safe there?
Do I cook to feel better, I was asked. I cook to stay present. I fed kids' friends down the hall, my older son's guitar teacher, my parents, the neighbors. I cook to have my imprint in the fridge for the week. I cook so I can screw up the salt and dilute it with broth, spew grease on the stove, scrub the pans. I cook because it's real and primal and unedited, affirming and soothing all at once.
My recipes are all in my head; if you want them, post a comment and I'll send them to you. My children, who are so lucky to have been in a right place at a right time, will eat home cooked food all week long, even as they arrive home before I do. Hopefully they will remember the intensity of my flavors along with the confusion they must have experienced watching their mother sob inexplicably in the kitchen for hours.