Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Peeling Back The Layers

Note: I discovered this one in the bottom of a mixed up folder of writing, something I was working on over the summer. It's a tough piece of writing, perhaps part of my endless mama book, perhaps just a snapshot in time. Although some of it feels dated, and at times desperate, I was amazed at how spot on it felt as a journey through the private inner landscape of balancing motherhood in my life. I invite you to linger, sit back, and enjoy the ride. -T

(insert gorgeous, thought-provoking photo here)

It's not as if anything ever really falls away. It's more like it's put aside, stuffed, buried under immediate obligations despite best intentions, as impassioned as they may be. And so, as the endless pile gets worked through, completed and released, unremembered things return once again to the surface in some ever shape-shifting dune of sand. Created. Released. Re-created. Does anything ever really leave us?

Peeling back the layers of sauce and cheese on some giant lasagne of my life, I come to the first slippery noodle: roadwork. Never-ending roadwork up ahead.

"Don't think so much. Allow it."

"All things, in the end, return."

"Nothing wasted."

Hard to see that point, especially after all the tedious hours, but perhaps it's true. I can never gain perspective at the time. Only afterward, looking through the prism of life, through the layers, the years, the experiences long dropped and almost forgotten, refracted in a gem-like view, multi-dimensional in retrospect, do things start to get clearer and make sense.

We are, each of us, gems, continually faceting, deepening, reflecting, and hopefully as a result, gaining even more sparkle with our growing depth. What disparate experience, skill, or relationship seemingly long-abandoned, will come back this time, never quite lost or fully buried?

I am so not-current at the moment. I am back-logged, drowned in forgotten moments. Oh, that'd be good to write about. Ooh, must document that!

As the sliver of time narrows increasingly, her needs above mine, I remind myself my time will come. Be present. Be here. It's the greatest gift a parent can give her child. The gift I didn't get. The gift I keep giving….and giving…

Still, as the waves of emotion tumble and crash upon my insides, I don't have the luxury to delve down in her presence. The bottomless sad pit. Can't afford it now. Got to keep a lid on it. Things are tight. Money, time, hands, resources. I am hungry, but I cannot eat.

Not yet.

"Soon. Soon," I tell myself.

(I've been telling myself that for years now.)

I can't complain. I have everything I need, though my wishlist is growing.

And I refuse to become one of those miserable women--fully staffed-out and shopping to appease the vaguely nagging cloud that feels like self-loathing, depression. You know the ones, the ones who cannot be grateful for so much abundance, the ones who have everything yet insist they have nothing, who cling desperately to pain instead of joy, who anxiety-ridden drain their swelled bank accounts on therapy and Botox, nannies and dogwalkers, power yoga and trainers and consumerism and glittery status social events.

I see these women everywhere in this town. I see these women around me and refuse to step into that pity-party, though at times I might like to. There's so much possibility all around me. So much to be grateful for. Always want to see the abundance, not the scarcity. Not the lack.

OK, I'll call a spade a spade.

We've been pretty broke here. Yet to what degree, I'm not certain. This town certainly gives off a warped perspective. It's hard to tell. We don't live in a war-torn country or in a shack with no running water. We're not fighting off diseases, clinging to our very survival.

We DO live in an expensive town with no health or retirement benefits except the ones you create for yourself. I guess we like it this way. Wouldn't choose anything else at the moment. But this brand of "freedom" comes with a hefty price tag. The stress of it all is slowly killing me. Not a sudden, "you're out!," but a slow, agonizing, drip by drip depletion met with surges of optimism and determination not to fall prey and secede.

Scanning the bullet points, I guess I've covered my goal of being a present, hands-on mom. Check.

I've defiantly dug in my heels, refusing to break up our family when things got dicey a bit back. That wave, thankfully, has crashed and rolled back out to sea.

I've given of myself to the preschool, the elementary school, the community when they've asked for allegiance, communion, sacrifice. Double, triple, quadruple check.

I've given to the cause. I'm a civically-minded individual…all for one and one for all and all that jazz…but sometimes at the expense of my self-preservation it seems.

I am anchored and solid, and learning to be patient. It's quite a hat trick, let me tell you. Sleight of hand, really, to still be here. My impression is that I've been here all along, and perhaps I have but it doesn't always feel like it. At times, though I'm right here, I too feel I've gone missing.

If anyone's still out there reading, checking in…thank you. I may not be as prolific as before, but I'm here. I'm still here…moving along, finding my way, though mostly it feels like I'm doggy-paddling in circles, trying to stay afloat, looking for shore.

So now what?

I'm pretty sure my child-bearing capabilities are over, or at least severely limited, though crazily I'd like to have one more despite the rocky terrain I've already traveled. My daughter's entering Kinder in the fall and she still feels like a baby to me. I know she's not. And I'm kidding myself about the other thing….so…

The camera slowly pans back to me and asks, now what? Who AM I? What can I do? What do I WANT to do? What's next?

I know I have to get paid. I have to bring in more income. And I know I can do it, I just can't make a choice how. This "stay-at-home" thing isn't me, literally and figuratively.

But I've given away the store for so long. I've side-stepped for so long. I've shape-shifted, delayed my creative impulses, plying myself instead with other gratification, (caffeine, cocktails, volunteerism for instance), in the name of "being the glue," the capable "I can handle it" one, that I am just FULL. And empty at the same time. Does that make sense? Is this the woman's place? To be empty-full, in some sacrificial, beautiful, zen-like way? Full of empty?

Who am I kidding!

I know I must move on from this place. I have high expectations for myself. I always do. I am exhausted yet demand full productivity. Results. Accomplishment. Must do, do, do.

It's stated in my survival manual: in order to feel fully activated, you must accomplish big things. Nothing minor. Big things. BIG, BIG things. Limits exist only in your mind and all that kind of BIG things. (Probably to mimic how small I actually feel.)

I've got this crazy post-feminist "I can bring home the bacon and mind the home store and be a present involved mother and throw down a gourmet meal while giving you a blow job on a daily basis" kind of womanly ideal to live up to. Oh yeah, while also maintaining my sparkling divinity and sense of inner-peace, never getting opinionated or "edgey," while staying downright youthful and thin. Yeah Ms. Over-achiever, let me get right on THAT.

I give myself 4 weeks of 4 days per week camp coverage to be creative and productive and finish my book (haha), which I haven't even started really, unless you count the years of scattered notes and half-thought-out pages, rejected outlines and snippets of thus. But it's all in here I insist, tapping my brain. Or is it here, in my heart? Or that 3-ring binder buried under "I love you Mommy" rainbows and crayon-scribbled flowers? I lived it, I know it, dammit. Doesn't that count for something?!

(The first week was spent unburying after a long absence. The 2nd week is nearly over, somehow. I just want to sleep. Vacate. Rejuvenate. But the 3rd week is looming so the pressure is on…)

I have been so productive, all along, but my bank account remains depleted. So does my inner gas tank. I've got to start charging for my labor, yet I've been giving it away for free. Now it's my turn to get paid. Work and get paid…what a concept... but really I just want to lie on a beach somewhere and sip mai tais, or mojitos, or margaritas, or martinis… (pretty much anything that's magnificent that's got alcohol and starts with an "m")… as I imagine my size 12 body the old 6 it used to be, with the chiseled abs and pretty little smile. Sigh.

I've never worked so hard in my life. Yet I FEEL LIKE I'M NOWHERE.

And why is it that every thing that I do feels so INVISIBLE?

I don't even know what the hell I'm doing, and if that's true, how can anyone else?

Bills glare at me from their untidy stack next to the disheveled receipt pile and medical bills that need attention. Damn insurance. With all those self-employed premiums we pay, couldn't they pay out something?

That snaps me back into focus...self-absorbed naval-gazer that I am, we're just lucky to still be parents for God's sake. How can I write about my mama angst when we could have lost her a few months back? (insert harrowing story of near-fatal accident.)

I adore her, my girl. She's my world. That's a good thing. Such a good thing. An amazing gift of creation she is, especially for me, for where I've come from, particularly for how many slings and arrows I've had to survive to get to her, to get to here.

And still….

For a time I have nothing to say. I am completely silenced. Leveled.

* * *

I realize I'm nothing if I'm not doing. I can bleed to death doing. I'm a no-boundary-aholic. I'm a helper, a doer looking for validation, it's as if my very existence depends upon it.

Quick, get me some "Nos," or better yet, if I'm going to work this hard then let me at least get paid for my work.

It's pathetic, this need to prove myself, this need to be useful, valuable, a problem-solver. This need to bleed for acceptance and love. Pathetic really. Transparent and pathetic.

So within this timeframe, knowing I'm setting myself up for failure, I tell myself, easy. Baby steps. It'll come, honey. Trust it'll come. You have everything you need. You have SO MUCH.

I do. I know I do.

I anchor myself down into the universe of abundance, abating another wave of fear in this crazy rollercoaster freelance life we've chosen.

I scan my choices, but my brain is limited. It can't see what it doesn't know. It's really not that helpful, the brain, after all.

Surrendering to something other, something higher, I wait to be shown.

This is where I am. This is me, right now. I surrender. Not where I want to be, but where I am. Open and willing to take on the next thing.

I know there have been moments. I've seen them. Brief glimpses down a path…

...and then, just as enthusiasm swells, anticipation running high, the immediacy of obligation thrusts its demands in my face like some party-crashing vibe-wrecker disturbing the vision, a stone smashed in the glassy smooth surface of water.

Fuck. Times up.

I feel the clock ticking. For her and for me.

I've already danced through half the keys on the piano, and you get less agile with age.

Wiser, but less agile.

The pressure is on.

Might be easier to just say, "I love you baby."

"I love you too Mommy."

And smiling and nodding, leave it at that.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Comfort Foods

(Note: another piece in my ongoing exploration of food as metaphor for life.)

There's something so comforting about certain foods. You know what they offer and they don't talk back to you. They're comforting in their kind of simplistic elegance. They reach us and feed us from the inside out.

A hot baked potato, or crusty bread slathered with butter for instance, with a sprinkling of good Celtic Sea Salt, ("goodie salt," as my daughter calls it), or a roasted Sunday chicken. It's so simple, yet so fulfilling when done right. It lends a kind of nourishment we long for at the soul level where everything is good and right and just.

Where some foods are fickle, requiring constant fussing and coaxing and maintenance, comfort foods are tolerant and forgiving, reliable as your ratty old pair of slippers tossed halfway under the bed. Left on the stove abandoned, they continue to gather flavor in their ever-inviting way, like a pot of simmering marina or a vat of chicken noodle soup.

Foods that go well together such as tomato and basil, balsamic and arugula, peanut butter and jelly, or lime and tequila, are like best friends, lovers even in their rightness, their togetherness. You can try mixing it up, do your best creative voodoo, a do-si-do shuffle out of shear boredom alone, but when you return them together, you are reminded of just how well they fit in that effortless way, the way you hope to one day fit with your own mate.

Some foods such as pasta take on an "I'll get along with anybody" approach, while others such as turkey and stuffing, apple pie and vanilla ice cream, are classic relationships we rely on time after time. Either way, I find solace and comfort in the predictability of certain foods and what they can offer…a deep connection to somewhere safe, somewhere nurturing, somewhere loved.

I took some green apples, turning and fingering them in my hands, considering their fate….big fat chunks, dotted with raisins, encased in the duality of an upstairs-downstairs house of pie dough. It would have been a classic, a nod to earlier, simpler times: thick, doughy, drippy pie, overstuffed and homey, (well, not my home but somebody's home nonetheless), and entirely comforting. Nothing wrong with that.

Yet today I wanted a special kind of comfort. I wanted to go farther.

My leanings went French, refined, a spiral of beauty, the apples lovingly roasted in cinnamon-sugar until caramelized in their own juices, then hand-mashed and slid onto the toasty golden deck of a buttery pâte sablé tart dough...

...then adorned only with more of itself: paper-thin petals of apple, a perfect spiral, drizzled in melted butter and dusted with a light snowfall of sugar crystals.

Baked off to define her edges, there she was in all her green apple glory. Tart yet sweet, simple yet sublime, open to the heavens yet pulling you into the pure heart of her: the apple elevated to art. True to, yet transcendent of, her original nature.

There is something quite fragile yet sublime about the immediacy of the consumption of food. It's a transient, disposable art form, easily dismissed as irrelevant and unimportant, perfunctory in fulfilling its task to placate hunger, or worse, something to be deliberately ignored or denied as we strive for an impossibly thin silhouette.

"Feed me," we ask, "I am hungry, I am longing, I am sad, I need connection, I need validation, I need nourishment," we plead. And lovingly (or not so lovingly) food obliges us.

Picked at the height of ripeness, cooked to reveal its greatness, served at the peak of readiness, all the while aware of the constant pull of imminent decline on the other side if ignored too long, great--even good--food strives to live up to and meet these in-the-moment demands. Sometimes it does. Other times it fails miserably. And taste can be tricky and subjective.

Yet we as a people consume unaware. Like some jilting lothario we move on to the next conquest. Unconscious of the very nature of the ingredients or the involvement of the chef-creator or the unspoken dance between inspiration and creation or even the limitations of materials to work with, we are unaware of the potential alchemy either towards death or rebirth available to us in every mouthful.

As we enter the holiday season, a time of many shared meals, feasts, and celebrations, I say send a hearty "thank you" to your plate, fully en-"joy" it (ie. infuse it with the energy of joy and deep gratitude) before you delve into it. Revel in the life it is offering you, a gift borne of inherent sacrifice.

Eat well, give thanks, and enjoy the bounty.
 May you be nourished as well as comforted.

Bon Appétit!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Foodie Unwrapped

You may be wondering where I got my inner-foodie mojo. When I think back to how I became so passionate about food, there are many influences, but I grew up with my mother in the midwest, so I would have to say that she was my earliest culinary influence. She had a large lazy susan full of herbs and spices, and encouraged us to get cooking early on. Instead of suggesting which spice went with what, she'd say, "use your nose!" and make us sniff the jars and explore for ourselves. Although that annoyed me at the time, I'm sure it had everything to do with the early development of my palate and my keen sense of smell.

Mom was more of a health freak than much of a cook, but she did insist we have a green salad every night. We would take turns washing the lettuce, patting it dry on a kitchen towel, and pounding the garlic in the bottom of the salad bowl to create a fresh vinaigrette for it. 

She was also an avid gardener, so as a kid I recognized the exquisiteness of tomatoes that still tasted of sunlight, green peppers and beans snapped right off the vine, the crunch of baby cucumbers, or picking sweet-tart raspberries in my own backyard.

As a teenager when I met my Dad, I absorbed his passion for food and art and music, and mostly his uncanny ability to whip together the most delicious and exotic foods in a matter of minutes. On the east coast, he introduced me to worldly flavors, gourmet foods and wine, and encouraged my experimentation in the kitchen. He showed me how to work with eggplants, chick peas, and fresh fava beans, how to eat eggs with pita bread, olives and sliced tomatoes. I learned to balance the creamy-lemony-salty-sharp ingredients of hummus with my eyes closed and my taste buds aware. We made lamb every which way, we roasted ducks, experimented with shellfish, and in the summer entire meals were made out of piles of farm fresh barely steamed sweet corn. "You've got to eat anyway, so why not eat well?" he'd say. We ate very well.

As a young adult, it was my travels and the cities I lived in that expanded my palate. Arriving in NYC at 17, I was exposed to just about every cuisine and ingredient imaginable, and I was curious. I asked questions. I explored markets. From Indian Tandooris to Bento boxes, I tasted and experimented. One of the best schools I went to was living across the street from the Fairway Market on 74th and Broadway. I suppose it was a poor man's Zabar's, but to me it was heaven. There I was introduced to mountains of produce, great breads, amazing cheeses, coffees, imported oils and vinegars, smoked fish, and so much more. It was also right down the street from another favorite goldmine, Citarella's Fish Market, which at the time was a tiny storefront packed with some of the most beautiful and amusing displays of fresh fish and shellfish I'd ever seen. I also worked my way through a number of restaurants to support my music career, and was continually inspired along the way.

New York City offered a huge collision of global influences for me, followed by living and working in the South, but by the time I got to LA a few years later where there's sunshine 95% of the year and just about everything grows here, I truly became inspired by the sheer abundance of cultures and ingredients available -- from every kind of produce, to farm-raised meats, to artisanal cheeses and sausages, to fantastic olives, and incredible world-class wine. It was as if the floodgates of creativity were opened and anything was possible. Roasted turkey with mango-dark rum glaze? Mahi Mahi with plum-cabernet sauce?
Guava roasted beef tenderloin w/ blackberry chevre stuffed squash blossoms? Sure, you bet. You could see it, smell it, grow it and create it here. I found abundance on every street, at every market, at every turn. And food became another creative medium to play in.

I never set out to be a chef. I didn't study with the right people or plan a strategic course of high-profile restaurants straight to the top like so many young upstarts do these days. I was never so self-assured or conscious about my life decisions. It was all so hand-to mouth. Day to day survival really. Perhaps I took my ability for granted because I assumed everyone had to eat anyway and probably already knew how to take care of that need, so for years I didn't value my skills much except as a way out of debt. Now records, that was my goal. A big juicy recording career, never a career in food. Food was just the ladder, the day gig. The bread and butter they called it. I fed the rich to feed my music habit, which somehow always landed me in more of an outlay of cash than an influx of success.

Needing to earn some quick cash, I discovered freelance catering out in LA. It was perfect. I registered with several companies and could book as much or as little work as I needed to. Within months I rose up from a kitchen assistant to head chef and kitchen manager on many very exciting high profile Hollywood events, and then I began getting requested to chef in the private homes of many stunning and unbelievable personalities.

But beyond all that which I'll save for another day, my bottom line, final fork is this: whether cooking in my home, for a group of friends, or for a client, I try to be creative and fearless with food. As a busy mother, time is a luxury these days, so I use what's fresh and available--whether that's what's in my garden, what's on sale at the market this week, or even the leftovers in my fridge, and I do it with as little fuss as possible. I find inspiration everywhere, and believe that color and beauty on a plate are just as important as taste. 

Creating with food is relatively no different than creating with words, or notes, or colors on a canvas. It's playing with form and ingredients to create pleasure and a shared experience. You've got to eat anyway, so you might as well eat well! May we all experience such abundance.

Bon appétit and santé!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

11/4...7...12...13...(now with photo)

Been meaning to post, but each time I sit down to write, life seems to get in the way. So much life, so little time to document it. Specific items from the ever-swelling list, get checked off, and are soon forgotten. Just what the heck have I been busy with these last few weeks and months?

It's a blur, really, a hazy memory. In the post-glance of speed, there is, really, no point of articulation, just motion, then not. And a crick in my neck from trying to stay focused while boulders and galaxies fly by: obligations to the ever-flailing school, this committee, that committee, communications to the administration, the professional development mentor, the booster club, the new "experimental" teacher, then there's the obligations to my family, my husband, his infirmed father, the needs and extreme nighttime neediness of my daughter, the kinder community, the toddler moms, the workout circle, the neighborhood co-op, the Westside parents needing school advice, the 16 projects I'm spread too thin on, and the immediate ones that require promoting, the ongoing what's for dinner, what are you bringing to the potluck, and the what day is it-who's doing the pickup?

To pick up where we left off, I can say this: The smoke has cleared, the air is clear, and we have a lot to be grateful for.

In the meantime, life goes on. We have our own set of paddles and with much effort are navigating our own set of currents, each of us. We are not struggling to save our home from wildfires, or bankruptcy, or dodging bombs, or anything so dramatic or newsworthy. Still, so much effort is expended. So much effort…and so little rest.

I am reminded of a few thoughts that bubbled up over the last year while doing my practice: What if this was the break? How do I learn to rest while in motion? And, be grateful for the soft, the hard, the picking through rough terrain, each with its own unique benefit and challenges. I've been through the picking through landmines months, where I was trying to deftly navigate a fragmented and intensely partisan terrain, and then these last weeks were just plain hard, challenging, and emotionally draining. I should feel so alive, purposeful, with something to push off against as I continue with forward motion, yet frankly I am ready for soft.

I took a vow a few days ago after delivering a fast and furious project, that I would take on no more commitments for a month. Except for what I had already committed to, I am clearing the decks folks. Erecting boundaries. Exhaling stress and obligation and worry, and taking in healing and nurturing, and joy. What a concept.

It feels like a major decision for me, like I might be able to remove the hard shell of tortoise-like responsibility, and what, discover a whole new soul underneath. That's the girl I want to find. She's the one who unencumbered, can really move: the softer, leaner, more effective, more decisive me.

I'm raising that blood orange martini to her.

(Somehow even the blood of the blood orange feels like the appropriate drink right now.

…They don't make chamomile martinis, do they?)

* * *

Blood Orange Martini

I'll beat you to the question:

Blood Orange Martini Recipe

3 parts Italian blood orange soda (I find this at Trader Joe's, but Target also has a brand)
1 - 1 1/2 generous parts vodka
1/2 part cointreau or triple sec

Vigorously skaken over a lot of ice and strained into a delightful martini glass that has been rimmed with a mixture of sugar and finely grated (micro-planed) orange zest. Garnish with a thin wheel of orange, or blood orange if you have it. Cheers.

(Here ya go with the photo op...recipe tested and consumed