Christmas is past and New Year's on it's way. The cacophony of constant advertisements on every medium scream CELEBRATE BUY CONSUME. I've done all three. But in a subdued, more balanced manner, mostly involving food. Two Christmas celebrations down and a last belated one to go. All the trimmings here. In the heat of an Australian Christmas there is still turkey, ham, and duck. Brussel sprouts and duck fat potatoes. Trifle and Christmas pudding with lashings of brandy custard. The little I can eat is of equally little concern. It's about giving to my family, to those I love. I cannot do much of what I want to express that love these days, thanks to my body and lives spent in different cities, but in this once a year monumental period of indulgence and hard work I can provide a tangible demonstration of what they mean to me.
A new lap top, my last had been living more in the realm of blank screens, it's only roll that of recipient to my frustrated expletives, has meant an enforced absence from emails and messages. I have no inclination to check anything. I have no need to feel the pressure, mostly self-imposed, to be on tap to all and sundry. My ability to say no, even if it's just to a computer program rather than human requests, is improving. It's only taken 44 years.
The world is there on my phone if I want it, but in truth any scrolling is more the product of habit than want. It has been used to document our daily lives and Christmas festivities, or to run Netflix or Plex, but mostly it has sat on my bedside table, on top of the ever increasing pile of detritis that chronic illness and chronic pain invariably creates. Silver foil and plastic in various shapes and sizes. Coloured cardboard boxes with pharmacy labels are stacked and toppled over. Saved from the inevitable plunge to the carpet below by a drinking glass, or three, and a half-empty tube of Mor's Mashmellow hand cream.
My desire to plug in is minimal. A small part of my brain twitches with FOMO but it is quickly silenced. I'm tried. From the past year and a three day post-Christmas migraine that makes it even harder to plug in. Even now the low rumble persists in the left side of my head. My left eye ball still recoils from light and feels both swollen and the lingering burn from the invisible red hot poker that has been using my left orbit as an Air B&B for the past few days. But it's dwindling. Slowly. But I'll take it as progress.
As I type I'm cooking pumpkin in the oven to make a pasta bake for dinner. The effort with the knife stresses the already burdened tendons and muscles in hand and wrist. But the need to create, to prepare, to eat something other than left over Christmas ham sandwiches propels me stubbornly forward.
There is a quiet bliss that slowly reveals itself when I cook. I rarely use a recipe, although my large collection of recipe books would suggest otherwise. Mostly I cook by touch and smell and sound. If it looks right then it is right, a timer only a prompt for a sluggish and forgetful brain not a slavish deliniator of cooked and uncooked My measurements are those of pinches and dribbles. Even if a measuring cup ends up in my hand there's always a smidgen more or a smidgen less. My refusal to be constrained to set millilitres or grams part obstinance and part an instinctive knowing that a bit more or a bit less is needed.
If you asked me to write you a recipe I'd be stumped and stressed. The password and userID to my free recall, my organisation and judgement, are long forgotten and the sentence prompt no longer makes sense. But in the sounds of the kitchen, amidst the hiss and the whirr, the familiarity of the roll can lead me in unexpected and delightful places. The ingredients come to me in the moment. The meditation begins as the chopping board clunks onto the bench. The ingredients reveal themselves slowly at first then with increasing speed, and a dish is prepared. Ask me what I am cooking or the names of ingredients and I draw a blank. But suddenly the spell is complete and a finished dish appears.
I don't know if I'm a good cook, but I enjoy it. My family tell me I bring the flavour to the food and I'll take that. My bloated shelves of bottles and spice containers are testament to my desire to bring that flavour, as is my extensive herb shelf in the garden (or is it table? At three pallets long and one pallet wide it's probably is more the later). All I need a starting spot. A cut of meat or a jar of spice and suddenly the path appears and the cooking begins.
I cook when I can. When my everything aligns and my body says yes. I push myself and cook when I feel the need to create. When the need for a break from the monotony of managing my body reaches tipping point. My lap top may play music in the background, but most of the music flows in my head, singing of cinnamon and cardamom, lemongrass and basil. I break from the laptop. From electronic connection. To just exist in the moment of domestic bliss that is preparing a meal or baking a treat.
I have a seat on wheels to help out. And husband and son to lift and test. I am told I use ALL the dishes. But that's what they're for. Why bother in hauling them from house to house only to sit in drawer or cupboard? Might as well get them out for a run and, well, thankfully the cook doesn't clean.
The leftovers go into the freezer for the times I am too unwell to cook. Into the next day's work lunch or re-purposed into yet another meal. It feeds my youngest when he comes off a long late night of waiting tables. It is a snack to pick at during the day when I can stomach only small mouthfuls at a time. The scraps go to the compost, to the very fertile worm farm, and our perpetually ravenous chickens. The cycle continues. The compost and worm wee give nourishment to my vegetables and herbs, and the chickens share a daily bounty of body warm eggs. The Ouroboruos at work in our small suburban backyard. Collect, create, devour, lost in the joy of preparing food for those I love.
My break is happening. Without decision. Without lists or resolutions. I'm sure there was a lead up, a process, maybe I was too tired to notice, but it's here now, seemingly birthed fully-formed and I'm embracing the moments.
I have wound down so I can wind my way back up again. A Summer hibernation. Curled up under airconditioner vents and surrounded by crumbs of tasty Christmas goodness.
The pumpkin has come out of the oven and sits cooling on the stove top. Deep orange with golden brown corners. The olive oil bubbles and glistens speckled with salt and black pepper. Soon it will join basil and garlic, ricotta and sage. The penne will tumble in boiling water which my husband will lift and drain. Followed by slow satisfying movements as weak hands swirl it through thick orange sauce. It will be topped with mozzarella and parmesan and roasted until a golden golden crust forms. The smell will drift throughout the house and out onto the evening winds. Carried to neighbours human and animal. And on to cow-filled paddocks and passing galahs.
My break is quiet and perfect.
And much needed.
My brain rambles and my body starts to send the first signs of needed rest. I mark the time until I can find my way back to pillows and sheets, content, edible alchemy completed and stowed away.
I'll live my break while I gather strings of cheese and pasta on silver tines. I'll plan some time outside tomorrow to cuddle a chook or run my hand through the chocolate mint. Or not. Breaks don't need a lot of planning. They don't need the strain of timelines and events. They just need to be embraced in whatever form they take.
Today's that's pumpkin and a shower. Netflix and sleep.
And listening to the rain as the last of the light fades from the sky.
Well, that's a world of possibilities I am yet to discover. I'll just go with the flow.
Paul Kelly's "How to Make Gravy" seems an appropriate musical accompaniment. For those OS, this is considered an Australian classic, one of many by Paul Kelly and one that always makes me a little teary every time I hear it.