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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Sacred Practice of Filling Bellies


Yesterday afternoon, I found myself in a trance-like state, standing at the counter top with raw food spread out before me.

There is something about returning to the basics of preparing food, washing dishes, wiping counters, and sweeping floors that brings me back to the here and now. With a third baby on the way, and the pressure of surviving on my freelance income while my husband is on the hunt for a new job, I often find myself absorbed with the future. Questions about next month, and the bills on the horizon, or this summer, and the medical expenses looming, or next fall, when maternity leave may not happen, flood my mind and make my heart race. These are things I cannot control, I cannot fix.

Here, in my kitchen, I can accomplish what has to be done. Little bodies are hungry from outdoor play, and the food in front of me is unfit to eat without my intervention. I set to work. As my hands perform the task before me, my brain lets go of bills and new babies, and becomes absorbed in the comforting monotony of food preparation. Swai is divided into nuggets, dipped in flour, dunked in egg wash, tossed in panko, and all is repeated two dozen times before sliding them into the oven. 

Hands are washed, and water set to boil. When my mind starts to wander back to expenses, medicaid applications, and finding new clothes for my the preschooler (who grows taller during every nap), I set to walking myself through the steps of ordinary housework I've performed a million times, tasks I can (and I have) complete while half asleep. Fill the sink with suds and water, dip dirty plates, scrub and drop into the dish drainer to my right. Repeat.

The water is rolling, so I dump a pound of pasta, watching it drop below the surface and throwing salt after it. Another saucepan finds it's way to the stove top, and butter slides along the surface, melting for cheese sauce. Cheese sauce is nothing special, when it comes to cooking skills, but it requires attention, and I relish that. Constant stirring to avoid scalding distracts me from whatever worry could consume me next. Finally, broccoli, because good parents feed their children green things, or at least that's what I've been told.

When you have a family, cooking can be a burden. As a mother of toddlers, three meals a day are my responsibility, with the occasional help of their father, of course. But largely, it is me, standing at the counter, tracing snakes in scrambling eggs, slicing grapes into halves and then quarters, blowing on bowls of spaghetti before setting them in front of impatient eaters.

But the "burden" of cooking is a gift, too. There is a comfort in returning to the basics, in doing the next task, when your days are full of things you cannot manipulate to fit your wishes. Most importantly, it is a reminder of the daily provision of full bellies, something we have never gone without, and for that, I am truly grateful.

image by: Maciej Szlachta
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