Birthdays and Such…

I’ve just celebrated another birthday, and I am sad and a bit in crisis. Sad because I am 32, and though all the people older than 32 out there will most likely be offended, I need to clear the cobwebs from my soul …32 sounds ever so old to me. It sounds so old that I’ve decided to remain 28 (this is the crisis part), and so really, I just celebrated my 28th birthday, thank you very much! and intend to do so for the next decade or so. I know, I too want to be the kind of person that embraces her age gracefully, that behaves her age equally gracefully, that with dignity and gratitude welcomes each new year because it makes her wiser and such. Despite knowing that I probably should be this person, I relinquish the should and admit that right now I want to throw a tantrum that I am not 19 anymore, that my metabolism has slowed considerably in the last decade, that people have much higher expectations for my list of accomplishments, that without a minimum of 8 hours of sleep, I cannot wake up fresh faced and energized (and even with 8 hours this is all debatable). 

Though my life has been wrought with so many changes, relocations and dislocations, more friends than I could ever count, most of whom are in other states, and my own insatiable wanderlust, I really do hate change. Even the coming and going of a birthday disturbs some internal rhythm, making my life feel unraveled and chaotic. Perhaps, this is the crux of this birthday too. All around me, things are shifting rapidly. The blur of this summer with my sister’s diagnosis, Darren’s new job, the PhD program I’m finding myself in happy but anchorless, my small group of three and a half years coming to a beautiful sense of closure.

New priorities, new schedule, a whole new set of expectations and obstacles. Each change washes over me anew, and I brace myself, dig heels in, try to withstand the tug and push. Each day has been a frantic search for the things that make me feel safe, cooking, sitting in my green chair surrounded by my favorite books in a  stack on the floor, phone calls with my mom, afternoons with Shiloh, laughing with my sister over funny and slightly dysfunctional childhood memories, and Darren reading to me in the evenings from various cookbooks. This past two weeks, it was from Ottolenghi’s and Tamimi’s Jerusalem, one of the most comforting books, replete with Jewish and Palestinian history, examinations of traditions and customs, and photography to get lost in. I’ve fallen asleep to the micro history of za’atar, or more recently the spatial rendition of a Jerusalem market.

I guess in the end, I am comforted by food and all that it symbolizes. I love the rituals Darren and I have, breakfast at the kitchen counter, a French press, toast with over-easy eggs, or rice pudding with pecans and lots of cinnamon. Lunch is rarely a meal we have together, but then there’s dinner. Most evenings, I cook; occasionally we get take out from our favorite Lebanese place, Café Agora. Often we eat on the couch, plates in our lap, talking, laughing, maybe catching up on a show we both like. I love spending time with friends over a meal, because sharing food feels like we are entering into a very intimate reality with each other. Food makes us more open and vibrant, maybe because it awakens our senses and pushes us into the experience of our bodies, thus making us more present to ourselves and to each other. Sharing a meal and conversation is familiar, yet always a thrill for me.

Today, we spent the afternoon with dear friends and their perfect mini schnauzers. We made three kinds of pizza and a gorgeous salad with apple slices, walnuts and dried cherries. Chad and Darren watched football, while Tiffany and I sat in the dining room and laughed and talked for hours over too many glasses of Gewürztraminer, and we lamented all the changes of each other’s lives, empathized, then laughed some more. It felt so safe to spend the afternoon doing ordinary things like cooking, watching football, and walking the dogs. We’ve done this many times before, either at our place or theirs, but today it meant more, like the untangling of one firm strand from such a complicated web of relationships and responsibilities.

Earlier in the day, I cooked an Ottolenghi recipe, which you could find here, dear reader. I guess this would be a good place to mention that I intend to cook my way through the Jerusalem book, although this recipe came from one of his earlier ones, called Plenty. It is the second time this week that I make this dish (this time it’s for you, Erin!) because it is the most perfect way to cook an eggplant. I am happy now just thinking of it, looking over the photographs. It’s a recipe that will make you fall in love with the humble aubergine, if you’re not there already. It’s a recipe that might one day make me accept that I am 32 (!!!). Yes, it’s that amazing!

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