I’m assembling Greek moussaka in my small but gourmet kitchen; big island in the middle, stainless steel appliances, two sinks, well appointed track lighting, the music of Phil Glass and Uakti accompany me. But truthfully, I don’t want to be here tonight chopping and grating and frying and dicing. Have you ever made a moussaka? Well, it calls for a béchamel sauce, then there’s the melting and whisking and the ever-so-slightly boiling; an incrementally precise task that if not done with care and attention can turn into a pasty disaster that resembles bathroom caulking. I’m not there yet, with the white sauce. I’m still trying to corral the cats into the studio before I take the lamb out of the refrigerator for the gently-frying-with-onion-and-garlic procedure.
Rosetta and Talik are five month-old kitttens who eat a raw meat diet and will take an eye out or mangle a hand to get to anything raw and bloody. Rosetta with her tiny little mouth drags loaves of bread off the counters and will eat most anything except banana peels and onions. I deliver them into the middle of my husband’s painting studio and dart quickly away to close the door behind me before they scale my backside to get to the lamb. I’ve been scolded by people for allowing this feral, undisciplined behavior in my animals. I don’t mind my cats on the counter is what I tell them (we don’t vaccinate and claws are mandatory.) We are a wild bunch in this tiny house, incorrigible and untamed. I prefer it that way, even when Rosetta is dragging a bag of pistachios off the kitchen table and scaling the screens.
There were these astrological events in the past few weeks; Saturn-Uranus opposition, Mercury retrograding, new Moon eclipsing, Ceres coming out of Piscean depths, and other assorted cosmic extravaganzas ripping through the space-time continuum bathing us in an electrical energetic soup that is making it very difficult for me to concentrate. My thoughts have been going at high speed and inescapable; I’m worried about my mother who is barely able to walk, her legs stiffening with MS. She’s living with a guy named Jack who has a tattoo of a barbie doll in a thong bikini on his upper arm, has two visible teeth, wears sleeveless Nebraska Cornhusker sweatshirts, watches television excessively (old westerns and Animal Planet) when he’s not at the Legion getting hammered with old funny drunk people. As salt coaxes water from the eggplants, I think about Jack in the lazy boy recliner, his feet swollen with gout, his fat belly spilling out from a shrunken sweatshirt; a pungent mixture of sad and angry comes over me. Jack has turned my mother’s apartment into his own campsite and dumping grounds, sleeping and eating in the lazy boy recliner when he’s not passed out in the car. With bare hands, I knead my grief into the cool dense mixture of lamb, oregano, and garlic.
I am visited by a chronic hypochondriacal fixation while whisking eggs; this long standing preoccupation is valid and stands on its own as a contender for most deserved neurotic hobbyhorse in light of the current cancer rate among people my age. The fear is communicating to me through my hip; a hot aching sensation has been pulsing through my lower back and down my leg. As I pull out my small oster food chopper the panic escalates. I am of the generation that received the monkey cancer virus through vaccination, the evil eugenical experiment that is, was, and ever shall be an endless nefarious pursuit of the sado-necrophilic- patriarchosis. I think about several friends who all died before or around age 50 from cancer. Most recently there was Penryn who died from a heart condition. Washing and massaging kale, I remember Penryn dancing. He was my husband’s friend who came to visit us on two occasions and the last time he visited he demonstrated the tango in the kitchen. That is a sweet memory; a 6 ft 6 inch 280 pound bald man dipping and diving in the kitchen like a giant swan. I answered the phone when the Sacramento fire department called and asked if we had a friend named Penryn.
There are no steps to be skipped in making this moussaka and I am not in the mood for even the simplest of them. That lamb has been sitting in the fridge for 2 days and the eggplant is turning soft with sepia tones.; It’s now or never for this Greek casserole. Now, I convey to my domestic self, only on Sundays will I tackle the more involved cuisines of the world, when Patrick is here to help, when the kittens can be outside, when the Moon is in Virgo, when there are women to share in the cooking. Ah, that is it. The aloneness makes its way up from the crawl space of my being. I have yet to find close women friends in this new era of my life. As I take a sip of wine, I acknowledge my part in creating this solitude, this deep-interior-time for the singular purpose of writing and creating; remembering how to be an artist again. Most days I want no distractions, no accompaniment, no dramatic emotional engulfments. Irregardless of desire for this or that, this is what Life has dished up for the moment.
But tonight I do long for the company of women; Laureen and our shared dark humor, my grandmother’s church-gossip as she kneads pie dough, my niece and her girlfriends; drinking wine, roasting beets, talking politics, bees, wine, and family. This is how it was done for thousands of years and is still done in most of the world where the globalized model of consumption/isolation has not completely consumed cultures: Women coming together around fire and nourishment and stories; our complicated lives eased, prodded, held in the company of each other. This construction of nuclear family, enforced capture, alone in a sprawling quarantined domicile is a sad one. I feel it so viscerally tonight as I dredge eggplant slices through egg and flour.
Memories of cooking at a young age rise up with steam from the colander: My mother calling from her job at Union Pacific railroad to deliver food preparation instructions; heat roaster, pour oil into hot pan, sauté onions, add 7-bone-roast to onions and brown, pour in 1/2 cup water and place in 350 degree oven. Potatoes and carrots to be added later. I began cooking for our family, my brother, sister, mother when I was 11. To this day my mother would never admit to anyone that she hated cooking, but I know she did. The kitchen for her was not a relaxing or enjoyable place to be. It was where even more obligatory, dutiful work was demanded of her. For my mother, like many working class solo parenting women, food preparation was not about aesthetics and pleasure or an exploration of culture and tradition. It was a job and mom and I always showed up whether we liked it or not. I believe she would have preferred to be taking a bike ride or a nap.
I pour myself another splash of assyrtiko. The moussaka is assembled and beautiful, ready to go into the oven. The kits with full bellies are sleeping peacefully together in their cat tree. Fears and fixations and longings are at bay and I relish the quiet of my mind. I think how extraordinary it is that we just know how to keep the company of ourselves; how in the fits of despair, loneliness, grief, and panic things get done in the cluttered meteoric companionship of self. I marvel at how one is occupied with an endless array of disordered ruminating, then as the tomatoes roast, careen into memories that have lost no tenderness through time. There I am in all the kitchens of my life; rolling dumplings, brining chickens, endless chopping, measuring, stirring, searing, simmering, cutting, chatting, remembering. It is all there, the movements of the body and mind, all the elements of self and substance, the clash of what has been and what is to come. The body in motion takes this journey with food and wine and stainless steel sharpness and there inside of it all, a meal is made, and if the conditions are right, a passage through time and place delivers us to the table of our own exquisite resistance.