Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tea, Sun, Chickens

What I Learned From My Mother
by Julia Kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds.  I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape-skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn't know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another's suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

1. The Chickens
Is it wrong to one day write about the secret wisdom of chickens, and another to tell you how boiling three of their legs and making a pie from their tender meat saved my pickling soul?

All day, nothing could cure my sadness.  Not a delightful morning jog with Dog, not time at my friend's house watching her sew, not toasting bread and spreading on delicious butter, and putting tomatoes and basil on top that I myself grew.  I ask myself now, looking back on this day, Goodness, how did you miss the seed of those moments?

I don't know.  Sometimes it just happens that way.  In fact, I have lately been meditating on the fact that what we do does not matter so much as the attention and intention we bring to it. 

Perhaps that is why what did cure The Sadness, as my husband affectionately calls that beautiful friend-emotion who sometimes visits and hangs around for a while, was making my own pie crust.  Because there was no reason to make a pie crust, other than the fact that I wanted to.  In that purity of decision, and crazed focus, that slight buzz of time rush and determination, I wheedled my way beyond the fog of a near-hovering migraine and into the bone joy of blinders-on, heck with the rest of the world, cooking.

Whew!  I'm sure glad I did it, too. 

Chicken pot pie might always remind me of arriving at my friend house to retrieve a book on a cold Saturday during graduate school, and being offered a giant slab of warm pot pie made by her neighbor, our friend Gina.  The crust on that pie was so thick and delicious, eaten in the cozy dark of Gina's windowless kitchen, that I can almost mistake the memory of it for putting on a beautiful, hand-knit sweater, and pulling up a rocker to sit at a fire.

2. Tuna Noodle Casserole (For When You Are Depressed)

When I got married, my excellent maid of honor (who is famous for being in something like sixteen weddings) presented me with a box full of recipe cards she had collected from many women in my life.  Making food from these recipes is a simple, true delight.  I know that this feeling is nothing new to lots of folks; in fact, I know it is a common wedding custom to share recipes.  To this I say, Yay Tradition!  It pleases me greatly to connect my kitchen to those of my family and friends.  Moreover, I find it an honor to expand my circle of women through food.

So, yes.  Food is healing!  And cyclical and amazing!  And recipes have a life of their own!  I hear them calling from their little boxes while I sleep at night.  Days after I read one, I have a bionic urge to pluck it from its safe little bed and do whatever it tells me, give myself over to its sometimes formidable ingredients. 

This urgency is wisdom, I say.  Like today.  Baking hearty pot pie on a gorgeous sunny day? Totally called for. 

3. The Future (Egads)
I wrote a bit about my kitchen as a guest on a blog I like, which hopefully will appear soon.  The posts and pictures on this site remind me of all the delicious freedom, exploration, and colorful dreams that your twenties can and hopefully do hold. 

Today is my friend's birthday. 

She and I have talked about the nervousness that comes with tipping the scales from your twenties to your thirties.  I have been surprised by the beauty and power I have discovered in the world via my thirties, so imagine my delight when having tea with a friend this week, to hear him state that turning forty is the Absolute Best! 

So there.  No matter what our age, we have this to look forward to: growing toward more wisdom and humor, the tenderness that comes with understanding, the flavors that season our souls on the path, and the good foods we learn to make! 

To your health, to your dreams, and unfolding creations.  And yes, that sounds like a scrapbooking ad.

So, while the tomatoes slumber and old grasshoppers rub their knees, I leave you for a night's rest.
with love,


  1. Ohh, kara! So glad we found one another!

  2. funny, just did some offhanded research on charles simic and recalled that he'd remarked, "if you want to be happy, learn to cook" (actually had to double-check i'd correctly remembered it as charles simic, and sure enough: )

    "old grasshoppers rub their knees" - fantastic

  3. Hi Whitney! It is too true! That Charles ding dang smart.

    Cooking is a more fun form of meditation (than butt on pillow) for me. Of course, when my hands are raw from cleaning dishes, then there is nothing more nourishing than meditating properly on a pillow away from the kitchen.

    I am overjoyed to be discovering this most endless pursuit of happiness!

  4. My friend Corinne got rudely booted off the posting section but wanted to say something, too! (Sorry, friends, who have also had this difficulty. I am hoping to remedy this very soon).

    From Corinne:
    "This is so lovely. This morning I was reading about the different ways to cut vegetables-- all the different angles and the way each are beneficial. As I read that I thought about how one of the most healing aspects of paying attention to the cut, the angle, the number of slices, was that quality of attention brought to the preparation. Thank you for beautifully reinforcing that idea this morning, Kara-- that the love in the preparation is just has beneficial as the food's own healing nutrients."

    Thanks, C!


I love to hear your thoughts!