The kitchen is where my inner science geek and slapdashing artist get to dirty dance…pure alchemy.
Cooking has always given me energy, yes; but it also requires a focus, effort, and sense of play that I haven’t been able to muster often over the last year and a half since my mom died. In the midst of not feeling like eating–let alone cooking–apples and cheese, toast, coconut milk lattes, sweet potatoes, and cheese & pickle sandwiches have been my stopgap foods.
Today, my cupboards and fridge were running to empty. This week, the single mom artist life, in between/on the cusp of the big launch/project, caught up to the food budget, so I’ve been eating what was on hand. Everyday, I eat pretty simply anyway, and while going through more of mom’s stuff (yes, still; empathy to those of you who’ve experienced it), rearranging and reorganizing my house, apples and peanut butter or a baked potato with cheese served well for meals most days. Today, there was an apple and peanut butter left, but I ran out of cheese and potatoes a couple of days ago and sweet potatoes a few days before that, and I was just a little sick of the apple thing. But as I organized and cleaned the kitchen, I came upon a few things long forgotten, shoved in the back of cupboards. One was a bag of whole oats. And that sounded good, so I made them for lunch.
But for dinner, I was at a loss. Out of bread (gluten free, alas). Out of cheese, out of chicken or fish, out of salad. I stood at the open fridge like a teenager.
I could eat a pickle. Or yet another apple with peanut butter. Or more oats.
I wasn’t going to starve. But that sense of play and taste sparked in me as I looked in the mostly empty freezer. I pulled out the gigantic Costco bag of green beans and threw some of them into a pan with thyme and–looking over at the spices I’d moved this morning–coriander. While those cooked, I pulled out the oats I’d not wanted, looked at them, looked back at the spices. Ah. I put about a cup of them in a bowl, added a forlorn 1/4 bag of finely shredded coconut that’s been in the freezer for close to two years, added a few shakes of curry powder and salt, stirred, and let it sit.
I need a little protein…hmm. I got a can of diced tomatoes out of the cupboard, pureed them, and in a small saucepan stirred them with a little garlic powder, coriander, and salt, putting it on a simmer. While it reduced to about half, I ate the now-done green beans. Then, I made patties of the oats mixture and fried them up. While they cooked, I put a big dollop of peanut butter in a bowl, blended in a spoonful of chili garlic paste, then incorporated the thick tomato sauce. If I weren’t out of coconut milk, a little would have been a no-brainer. By then, the patties were crisply done. So I ate…food, a meal, a meal I made.
And it was delicious.
And as I sat here enjoying the taste, I recalled all the dishes spun from nothing when I was out of most food and had to dig deep into the cupboards. My pumpkin soup. How we make hot cocoa (from being out of milk). So many. And now “Curried Coconut Oat Patties with Vegan Peanut Sauce.” So much yumminess made from empty. So much from nothing.
I thought of the past two years and work and relationships. So very often, I sit before the book’s manuscript, working hard, seeing the finish line so close, wanting to plow through it, and I sit there staring at it, feeling empty, with nothing left to give or say. And beyond the book, I’ve felt so drained of any emotions but grief and missing my mom that it feels like the power to love and be in people’s lives has been as fleeting and gone as food from those kitchen shelves.
But then, I looked at this meal I just ate.
And it came from emptiness. Those depths and forgotten corners, that space, yielded rich sustenance…and it tastes good.
And if this can happen, so, perhaps, even when I’m on empty, can I continue to write, create, and communicate…my job. And perhaps, even in the midst of the empty space, I can reach out, hug in, and continue to connect even more beautifully and authentically than I did in the midst of stocked shelves.
Empty may feel empty; it may even be empty.
But empty is not dead. And I am thankful for its gifts.