The Japanese government has declared the baiu (summer monsoon) is officially on. And we did indeed have some rain the last two or three days. I find rain so cleansing and comforting that when I lived in a city with little rainfall I felt an ever-growing sense of inquietude and filth, as if the world was not getting a good cleansing. I was glad to leave that place where everyone told me the weather was perfect (72 degrees everyday) because the weather was just too fucking monotonous. I like my weather to riff a bit, to surprise me with a scat and a groove.

I had a dinner party on Saturday night. I invited four other temporarily manless (unmanned? man-free? murihito?) women and served them Moroccan food: salad with romaine hearts and oranges and cinnamon, whole-wheat bread with caraway seeds, stuffed meatballs cooked in a ras el hanout spiced date and onion sauce, and for dessert, mint tea, sesame cookies, and slices of watermelon. The recipes were from Cooking at the Kasbah by Kitty Morse. My father gave me the cookbook. It’s signed to me by the author, so my dad must have met her somewhere. I thought I’d give this new addition to my cookbook collection a test drive. It’s a pretty decent cookbook: lovely photos, some good background, recipes for staples like spice mixes and preserved lemons.

I just received some thank you emails for the dinner and the theme seems to be that I make entertaining look easy. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with how I prepare. I chop everything that can be chopped, cook everything that can be cooked ahead of time. I lay out every utensil, every bowl, anything I may need. This seems logical and natural to me, and indeed makes everything easy. This kind of easy is deceptive because I must do the work of thinking of everything that will be needed and laying it all out.

There’s something else, though, in “easy.” For me, the kneading of the bread, the chopping of vegetables, the forming the spiced ground beef around wedges of hardboiled egg to make stuffed meatballs, all this is fun to me. I enjoy making my own food almost more than eating it because I taste and smell it for several hours, and by the end I am almost immune to it. Making food for me is about discovery and creation. I feel alive and connected to the world when bread rises, when rice steams, meat browns, onions melt down and caramelize, when a teaspoon of cardamom or cumin or a pinch of saffron perfumes the kitchen and the dish. I feel a connection to the place that the food comes from, even if I am cooking Moroccan in Japan. It may be an indulgent illusion to think oneself connected to other places through food, but I know of no other instantaneous way to sample a culture. Language and art require some study. Food is one way (along with music) one can spontaneously enter another culture. So, if it looks easy, perhaps it is because I’m having such a lovely time.

Still, even with food and music, familiarity makes for deeper appreciation and ease. So, I can whip up a Moroccan-style meal in a couple of hours because I have cooked similar dishes before. I have used the whole range of spices, and I am past having to be careful as I add ingredients. Perhaps I have a feeling before I even read the recipe what the recipe will include; I just rely on the measurements as a guide. I often change ingredients or amounts knowing I like extra this or that. I often pull out several cookbooks and then make a meta-recipe from several versions of the same dish. I have tasted enough in restaurants and home cooking in many countries, through many different cookbooks to understand what I am going for. When you have tasted only a few things in life, the new can seem frightening and overwhelming. For me, experience only deepens my appreciation and makes the work light. The difference between a jaded palate and an epicure’s delight is all in one’s spiritual attitude.

All this shows that easy is relative. Easy is hidden behind experience. A musician makes a performance look easy because he has done it hundreds and hundreds of times before. He can add or subtract at will, change up the recipe because he knows exactly how to adjust the musical ingredients. So, what I read in my thank you notes is I have become smoother at the performance, not that the effort is inherently easy.

I washed the dishes, put things away, and spent today in a meditative mood as the rain lightly showered and cleaned everything. I listened to a little Van Morrison; I watched too much TV, and ate some leftovers. I missed my husband and thought of what we’d be doing if he were home. (We’d be laughing.) Having weathered many such deployments, I know how to help myself get through the long months of feeling physical yearning, self-pity, boredom, annoyance, depression, transference to an obsession to help pass the time, and occasional moments of joyous transcendence. Making dinner can be a deeply healing activity. Being a Navy wife is difficult, I suppose, but I’m pretty sure from the outside I make it look easy.

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