Never is one more keenly aware of their singleness in the world than when one is in the grips of the grippe... too sick to care for oneself, too sick to even care... and yet, still managing to... somehow...
This illness, if I may cheer victoriously, perhaps prematurely, was as intense as it was short-lived, and required mostly sleeping, ingesting liquids, and consuming copious amounts of BBC television shows, including Call the midwife!
But I digress. This keenly felt singledom is most trying at these times, when there is no medicine left in the house, and there is a delicate child who still needs her needs met, and one's brain is in a fog, and there are midnight emergencies, and it just feels too hard.
So, obviously, my response to mildly encroaching self-pity is to cook. It doesn't make me less single, or more lovable, but it does make me feel soothed, for a moment... and when one suddenly remembers that they have body parts heretofore unnoticed, such as a throat that feels like it has been grated with a cheese-grater, or sinuses that are akin to a pressure cooker (ah! note to self! must procure a new pressure cooker as the old one may have seen its last pressurized days), and bones that ache, not with sadness, but with actually metallic blue-lightning pain of activation of armies of white blood cells, or whatever it is that our bodies, mostly healthy, not as perfect as we are told they must be, but our bodies nonetheless, do in such circumstances, feeling soothed, is, perhaps, all that we may hope for.
In any case.
There were lemons, not the pilfered ones, which will come in later, but ones gifted kindly to me by my erstwhile gardener who sometimes comes, and often shows up at odd hours with flowers for me, and waters what I forget, when I forget it. Upon dragging my sorry self home from Friday morning school run, with less-than-typical agitation because my ability to give-a-fuck was impaired by my cotton-filled headache, I promptly juiced all the lemons in the house into a half-gallon's worth of homemade lemonade. These lemons were from various friends' gardens, truth be told, my ability to utilize such gifts surpassed by their sheer abundance and shelf-life. But, agua de limón, it was, and a pot of chicken soup that is the cure-all to ailments of both the physical self and the psychic fallout that abounds when our bodies fail us.
Boiled in a pot:
chicken (with bones is better, but I only had frozen breasts)
bay laurel leaves (they're old, so I just throw in a bunch and hope for the best)
onion (it was left out and dehydrated, so, what better recycling than a pot of stock!)
4-5 garlic cloves, halved
many organic carrots (I no longer bother to peel carrots, it feels liberating)
salvaged celery (the slightly discolored and wilted outer stalks that would be inedible if they weren't boiled to all hell)
brown rice thrown in for sustenance
While the soup made itself I pretended to be healthy and met with students via Skype, sipped mint tea with honey and cursed my work ethic. When 2:30 hit, and child was fetched, medicine procured ("mom, I have a run in my leggins... but oh well..." "Yeah, whatever, it's just a body" "mom!you aren't wearing a bra, you can tell!" "Meh. Fuck it." "Yeah, why care what anyone else thinks?!" "(unintelligible snuffle-grunt of agreement") I stumble back to bed, and sleep from 3 to noon the next day.
But noon brings with it a child who wants to see friends and a kitchen that once again calls... I must be feeling better, dizzy-self muses, and shuffles pantsless to the kitchen, remembering to close the shades before parading across the dining room window-stage. Lentils, she thinks... because, lentils... and a tortilla española.
Sautee in olive oil;
a few potatoes, sliced thin so as to lose their rawness more evenly and quickly (I stopped peeling potatoes a while back too...)
half an onion chopped and sauteed, along with the potatoes
garlic cloves (crushed and added after onion is translucent)
add a bit of salt to potatoes as they cook... makes for a much better tasting tortilla
In a separate bowl:
crack 6-7 eggs, add a half tsp or so of salt, scramble with a fork
Add fully translucent potato mixture to eggs and let sit for a while. Clean pan and add more olive oil.
On low heat setting pour egg mixture back into pan, let cook until it is almost fully dry on top, then, using a skilled, burn-resistant hand, place a plate over the top, flip the omelet, and slide the wet side, face down back into the pan and cook for a few more minutes.
A cup of green lentils
A half potato, cubed
(You see the pattern)
A large, juicy chipotle in adobo sauce
1/4 cup tomato sauce (non-seasoned, or homemade tomato puree)
boil the above in 2 cups of water, with salt to taste, and a bay leaf or 7 (remember, old spices lose their potency, but I hate throwing anything away)
So, I had the energy to cook, but not really to eat very much... and so, we ended up caving, ordering an amazing thin-crust pizza margerita with mushrooms (because... mushrooms are one of life's basic staples, obviously), crawled back into bed, snuggled with sympathetic child and sleepy-protective-dog by my side.
But? The pilfered lemons, you ask... ah, the pilfered lemons.
After another mostly-bed-ridden day (I always think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when I spend too much time in bed) I slept another long night... awoke still dizzy, but determined to feel better. What is this? I can no longer feel my throat-grated... I am healed!
The windows are flung wide, though a momentary flash of fear crosses us, as the dog goes wild and there is a man with a machete climbing our back wall and then tip-toeing his way across our neighbor's roof.
I think, what better time to take the dog out for a walk to explore such madness, and maybe warn the neighbors. But, lo! the machete wielding white dude is still on the roof of the neighbor's house, my body relaxes just a bit and I call the kid to tell her of my discovery. All is well in the enchanted barrio. So I wander with the dog, through a neighborhood built in the late 40s and early 50s, and muse at the wholesomeness of it all. There are still people everywhere, couples doing yard-work, a woman cradling a baby as her husband gets into a car with a Grateful Dead sticker (I think it is a black BMW, and by association, my twisted mind plays a Don Henley retrospective, much to my chagrin). There is an old man sitting with his eyes closed and his upturned face to the sun, and I think... well, this is glorious, and my dog doesn't poo, because I forgot the bags. Things are going my way! No room for self-pity here!! And I calculate the ways in which I might improve my house, making mental notes of the others, much like my own, and the creative solutions that neighbors have come up with to enhance vegetable growing, or car-storage, or mother-in-law accommodations (not that I have one, but maybe one day... my sappy hopefulness embarrasses even me. Full stop.)
Lemons! there are lemons rolling about, lolling listlessly on the opposite side of a cement blocked contention wall. They are technically on the sidewalk, and so, I help myself to one. Just one. I don't know if I need it, but I think, I am
fresh out of lemons. And one can always use lemons. And then there is the secret thrill of taking something of the earth but not entirely one's own...
And then, as if by magic, the lemon serves to complete my previously unplanned emergency hummus:
I prefer to cook my own garbanzos from dry, but, as previously noted, my pressure cooker is semi-out-of-commission, and I only have canned organic garbanzos, so they will do.
1 can, rinsed and then heated back up in water on the stove.
A quarter cup sesame tahini (just ground sesame, nothing else added)
A few cloves of garlic
A pinch or two of salt added to the garbanzo water and a few more added after the fact to the food processor
The juice of one pilfered lemon (or slightly less)
A quarter cup water added to all of the above
A tablespoon or so of olive oil
All of these should be processed in a hand-held wand food processor or a larger one (if one has one handy, which I, shockingly, do not!)
This can be savored with a swirl of harissa, or topped with pine nuts...
And so, I credit the copious amounts of sleep, and the neti pot with hot salt-water, and the mildly good work news, and the cooking for my speedy recuperation. And though there is no abiding wisdom in a day spent cooking, and talking on the phone with my darling friends, and pacing in my socks on the sidewalk in front of my house while conversing, (with pants!) there is something about the lemons that makes the rest of life a little bit less sour, a little bit more sweet, even.