Finding balance in the second half of life

Cooking with Friends

In Fulfillment on July 26, 2020 at 6:23 pm

I rotate things. This is a longstanding habit; I’m not quite sure when I started or why. My approach might be described in business terms as “first in, first out,” or FIFO, but there’s never been a particularly business-like motivation. Lest you fear for my wellbeing, these are only habits that I’ve set, I’m aware that I’ve set them, and I can break “the rules” whenever I like without losing a wink of sleep.

I hang my clothes by category (dresses, skirts, tops, pants), and insert clean clothes to the right in each section. Items on the left are up for grabs when it’s time to get dressed. This system limits the daily dithering about what to wear, although my partner would assert, and does, that my system is not as efficient as his, which is a uniform of blue jeans and white shirt, every day, all year. This habit also highlights things that can go: If I’ve skipped that blue shirt for a month, there must be a reason. What’s been clarified in the last few weeks is that dresses without pockets are even more worthless than I’d thought (at least until it’s cool enough for pocketed layers).

I’ve allowed myself two shelves for cookbooks. When I cook from a book, I return it to the top left, shifting the books between shelves as required. If a new cookbook enters the house, I need to make room for it. Books on the bottom right are prime candidates, since I use them less often. (I recently acknowledged that formal French cooking is not so much my thing with information from this rotation.)

I’d thought a few weeks ago, when I moved The Microwave Cook’s Complete Companion from the top shelf to the second, possibly on its way to eventual exit, that it represented a pandemic lifestyle change. Although we’re cooking all the time now, we don’t need to cook quickly. In the weeks since, I’ve realized other blessings from my inventory management system.

When I’m seeking inspiration or wanting to change up our menus, I can look to the bottom right to hear from a different culinary voice, possibly a different culture. A glance tells me we could consider some Indian food, exotic pizzas, or Perfect Picnics. In the absence of ready treats at coffee shops or convenience stores, I’ve dusted off the cookie jar and am keeping it populated. Choosing from the lower right supplied us with “Grandma Jean’s Herb Cookies” with fresh mint, a complete departure from my habitual oatmeal chocolate chip. 

Cookbook shelfI have long preferred my own cookbooks and clippings to online recipes, and this season has helped me understand why. My cookbooks connect me with people, past and present; recipes I have made before can do the same. Cooking has always been a therapy, a meditative practice for me, and in this time of separation, I’m often meditating on people and the histories we share. 

This cookbook was a gift from my friend Deb, and contains a “Zucchini Soup” recipe that’s a good candidate for tonight’s dinner. She lives only a city away, and we’ve shared interests in needlework and papercrafts for decades. I own that cookbook because my brother once spent a summer in Colorado—and a son lives there now. Here’s one I bought as menu inspiration when planning a church fundraiser. This cookbook I was given as a tenth birthday present; from it I made oven-fried chicken to serve my dad while he could still eat solid food. That cookbook came to me when my mom winnowed her own cookbook shelves; when I flip through it, classics—cole slaw, potato salad—conjure full childhood images. This cookbook taught me vegetarian cooking, and from it and that tiny kitchen on Eleventh Street I fed gatherings of college friends.

All of these people and all of those times are with me in the kitchen, which is no doubt why I don’t mind mincing onions, julienning carrots, and peeling squash. For all the frustration, heartbreak, isolation, and loss associated with this pandemic, there has also been grace. And gratitude. There is, daily, the chance to remember who I am, who I love, and where we’ve been and what we’ve done together. Sometimes the kitchen is downright crowded.

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