This I Believe
I believe in cooking food. This belief was a gift from my children. The director in the orphanage in Nepal told us that our children, Bishnu (5) and Sunita (6) were good children, because they never complained about the food, which oftentimes was nothing but dal-bhat (rice and lentils). Only recently, watching a video from when they first came, did I realize that the dark shadows and the extended tummies meant malnutrition. One doesn’t complain about the food if one has known starvation. When the flood hit the Chitwan area of Nepal in 1993, it rendered these children orphans, but also took the alluvial soil from the river basin. Several years passed before crops were supported.
When they arrived in our home, our new children reacted to being fed like other children react to Christmas morning. Their gratitude was not feigned. They recognized food as love—the more exotic the offering, the move they felt honored. The longer the smells had lingered in the kitchen, the more the emotion was savored and taken in by the pores. Love was palatable. This situation was repeated when we discovered a sibling, Krisha, left behind because, at age 5 he was able to move mud with a bucket. After years of bureaucratic madness, he joined our family. I see Krishna’s eyes light up at the smells generated from the kitchen.
I was raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in the 1950’s. Fresh produce was limited to two or three months a year. We ate lots of root vegetables, and canned vegetables. When frozen foods came out, it vastly improved the taste of carrots and peas, but, to put it bluntly, I don’t recall scintillation of the taste buds. I don’t recall a spice rack in our home. The exception was baking. On baking day, fresh bread and cinnamon rolls turned the house into a cherub’s pillow cloud of aroma in which the six of us floated in ecstasy.
To honor my children’s heritage, I began to experiment, with Indian spices and exotic names: Chicken Vindaloo, Tandori, Aloo-Gobi, but fortunately they also like Italian and Mexican, and my decision to write this essay came from my son’s comment when I asked him if he needed lunch, that he’s rather wait for my green chile and chicken enchiladas. How many enchiladas? I ask. Five or maybe ten, he says.
I have plenty of things in my life to give me pause. I have questioned my profession at all levels (ah yes, I’m a lawyer). Like most adults, I have struggled with meaning and relationships and my creativity. But today, with chiles roasting in the oven, with one hand grating cheese and the other turning the flame down under the sautéing onions, I realize this is my zen, my meditation, my time when time is only what I am doing and nothing else. I am weaving the fabric of family. I am engaged, and the activity in which I am engaged is spelled LOVE.
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