Life can seem all right in a gray soft box, in perpetual rain. Though you’ll forever long for a real soft box, a shoe box for a house mouse lined in quilting squares and wood shavings with little holes poked in the top for breathing, for particulate shafts of light. A warm place for resting and being fed. I still long for such a box sometimes because for me being an adult can feel like running. Like something with fangs from a Grimm brother’s yarn is forever breathing down my neck just a few paces behind.
Maybe I only feel that way because of what I came from. There are things about me, things I don’t wear on my sleeve. But I don’t try to hide them either. And I’m going to talk about it now. Maybe for me, maybe for other people. I don’t know. Not but a year and a half ago I was sitting in the common room in a treatment facility feebly, frantically attempting to “cook” with a single serving packet of cheerios, an orange, a mini carton of milk, and some cheese & peanut butter crackers. I remember thinking “creamy, salty, sweet, acid”. I did understand something about food, even then. Even addled as I was, just a few days in. I remember thinking it was okay, whatever it was I made. I think I thought it was soup.
In short, I’m an addict in recovery. Tonight, I just learned that my roommate from treatment passed away on Monday. She and I, our lives were parallel lines. Same elementary school, same high school, same drug of choice. She was beautiful, perfect really. Impossibly blond. Three years younger than me. She ran. Her face-wash smelled like grapefruits. Everyone loved her. If you’d asked anyone back then which of us would be dead come a year and a half’s time, most people would have put their money on me. I would have put my money on me. Yet here I stand, so very happy with more amazing and exciting things happening in my life than I would have ever allowed myself to imagine possible. I will never pretend that I’m the reason for any of these things. Yes, I make choices. I work hard and make choices for life daily. But I don’t know why I got well. To be honest, I didn’t even want to. I ended up in treatment because I had no choice. I was railroaded into it. No one would have ever thought I would stay clean in a million years. There wasn’t a lot of hope still being held out for me, least of all by myself.
I’m forever grateful to have been given a second chance, but I’ll never understand it. First of all, it wasn’t a second chance. A fiftieth? Who’s counting. But I do know without any doubt that the life I have today is nothing short of a miracle. I don’t use language like that lightly. And her passing only amplifies that fact. I will never understand why she and countless others cannot and do not make it out alive. I assure you all, it wasn’t for her lack of trying. We sit in these trenches as our fellows fall around us, and when the dust settles and we’re left standing, we can never know why them and not us. And God save us if we ever think it’s because we’re somehow better than those that didn’t make it out alive. Because I know I’m not. Survivor’s guilt is real, and I wrestle with it often, tonight very much so. I don’t know why her story was written like that. But I’m not the author of that book and there is nothing I can do to change it.
A lot of people like to talk about how living well is the best revenge. Well, I’m not interested in revenge. I’m interested in gratitude and amends. And sometimes the best amends a person such as myself can make to the countless people hurt over the years, myself included, is to live well now. I can’t change the way I lived for those fifteen years in the rain, but I can live well to the best of my ability now, each moment, one day at a time. I can be honest. I can suffer when it hurts instead of running from the pain. It’s always in our attempts to escape suffering that we suffer the most, I have found. So to show my gratitude for a chance at life and to make amends for the years I wrought destruction, all I know to do is live well.
Living well is no grand gesture. It is waking up. Trying to be reasonable and kind. It is making a phone call, a loaf of bread, a visit, a bowl of soup. It’s going easy on yourself so you can go easy on everyone else. It’s having faith because really we have no other option in this life. There is little we can control, and so we must let go and live with faith that somehow, come what may, we’ll make it.
The vertigo I felt when I heard was terrifying. I was standing in my kitchen, no I was sitting at the counter. My father was washing dishes as my mother wiped down my cooktop. My brother & sister-in-law had just left. I was cooking for them, for my family, getting their opinion on some recipes I’ve been working on. Patrick was standing behind me. My mother looked up and said “I don’t know if I should tell you this.” And then she told me that my sister-in-law had read in the obituaries that my roommate had passed away on Monday. I broke down instantly, burying my face in Patrick’s coat. My father muttered about why did she tell me. I kept trying to say it was ok, that I wanted to know. And I did. It’s easy to forget where you came from, forget the gravity, and how cold and wet and dark it is out there. How the end is always the same. And to forget what a gift life is, especially for me. Sitting there, hearing that news, all I could imagine was a parallel universe where our lines were switched, imagined her standing there, clean & sober with her love and her family around her in a warm kitchen. I imagined her mother furrowing her brow and telling her “I don’t know if I should tell you this, but Beth Kirby died on Monday.” All I know, all I can say, is this: There but for the grace of God, go I.
I can’t give her that kitchen in a parallel universe. And I’m so sorry for that. But what I can do is never once take what I have for granted. And I can help anyone who finds themselves where both she and I did. That is all I can do. Tell people you love them, listen if someone needs to talk. I know this has all been cliché, earnest things tend to be that way, but do. And don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Some people need a lot more help than they look like they need, and some people are a lot stronger than they look. You just never know about people. Don’t forget that.
I apologize for the heart pouring. My life at the moment is filled with wonderful opportunities, rain, stress, love, and this painful reminder of what could have become of me and what does become of so many amazing men and women. I am so grateful to be alive, I have no words. The countless mornings I shouldn’t have woken up haunt me. Addiction is an awful disease, and each person that makes it out alive is something to be in awe of. Not of that person, but of the inscrutable miracle that is a clean addict. And that’s any addict, be it sex, gambling, booze, drugs, you name it. We’re complex creatures and a fascinating, terrifying array of things can bedevil us. I know countless people suffer from this or have loved ones who do, and all I want to say is that addicts can and do recover. Never give up.
So here is soup and bread, comfort. For the rain. For you. For your family. For her. It’s nothing fancy or special, and to be honest, I didn’t really write down the soup exactly, so make it to suit what you have and your tastes. I was just becoming a bit depressed at all the rain this past week so I made it. The bread is easy, it literally took me one hour start to finish. I’d give it an hour and a half if you don’t run around like a mad woman. I don’t think it could be easier to put fresh bread on the table than this. So if you’re like me and soup and bread are part of your peace and joy and living well, then I hope you enjoy it. I might be temporarily a little less present on this space due to a heavy work schedule, but just know, I’m still very well & happy indeed. & shall always return.
Curried Kabocha Squash Soup
I made this with a mix of stock and water because I just had a bit of stock. It could easily be made with just water or all stock. I made it to taste with stuff I had on hand. It turned out amazing, with so much flavor. This was a very Michael Ruhlman inspired cooking moment, being ever mindful of the balance of flavors, of salt, acid, fat. What can I say, it works. Building flavors works.
1 kabocha squash peeled, deseeded, and cubed
1 medium shallot, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 generous pinches of good curry powder
pinch of cumin
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of garlic powder (or a clove of fresh minced if you like, add it with the shallot)
pinch of crushed red pepper
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cups water
juice of one lemon wedge
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4-1/2 cup of heavy cream
1/4-1/2 tsp fish sauce
1-2 Tbsp sugar, to taste
dollop (about 1/2 tsp) of sambal oelek (chili paste)
parsley or cilantro (optional)
Heat the oil until shimmering. Add the shallot & pinch of salt and sweat for a few minutes until translucent and fragrant. Add the squash another pinch of salt, the curry, cumin, cinnamon, garlic powder, and red pepper. Stir and cook for a minute or two. Add the stock, water, lemon, and cider vinegar. If it looks like it needs more liquid, add more. It will depend on the size of your squash. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the squash is completely soft.
Puree with an immersion blender or in a stand blender. Once completely smooth, add the cream according to your taste. Season to taste with the fish sauce, 1-2 Tbsp sugar, and finish by stirring in a dollop of sambal oelek & garnish with fresh parsley (or cilantro if you swing that way). [note on seasoning to taste with sugar: you don’t want it to be sweet per se, you just want to bring out the sweetness of the squash and balance the salt and acid…start slowly & add until it tastes right and delicious]
“No Time” Bread
from The Kitchn
yields 1 loaf
Notes: I made this in an hour flat. But I was trying to do so. I reduced the rise time and cooking time because I was in a hurry & it still turned out just fine. I probably let it rise about 10-15 min total, and only baked it for about 25-30 minutes. I didn’t make it into much of a ball and it “plopped in” and kind of flattened out a little which probably accounts for the cooking time. I also only had about 1 cup of bread flour and used AP for the rest, which was also fine. I also failed to divide the flour and added it all at once, also, obviously, fine. In short, if you do a better job than I, it will probably be even better. It’s not going to be slow bread, obviously, but hey, it’s fresh bread without forethought. Not bad at all, quite good. I’ve already made it once again.
4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (two packets)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups water
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer put the yeast, sugar, and water and let it sit.
Heat the oven to 450°F. Put a Dutch oven in to warm as the oven heats. Get out your flour, salt, vinegar, spray oil, and anything else you need.
Now that the yeast has had a few minutes to bubble up, add 3 cups of the flour as well as the salt and vinegar and beat for several minutes with the paddle.
Add the last 1/2 cup of flour and switch to the dough hook and beat for seven minutes. Alternately, knead vigorously for five minutes, or until the dough becomes extremely elastic. This will still be a wet dough, but not goopy (it was pretty dang sticky, but no, not goopy). The dough will clear the sides of the bowl but still stick to the bottom.
Lightly grease a microwave-safe bowl with vegetable oil and transfer the bread dough to it, rolling it in the oil. Cover the bowl with a very wet towel. Cover the whole thing with a dry towel and put in the microwave. Microwave on HIGH for 25 seconds. Let rest in the microwave for about five minutes. Microwave on HIGH for another 25 seconds, then remove. Let rest and rise for another 15 minutes.
Shape into a ball and plop into the preheated pan. Quickly slash the top with a knife. Cover and bake for about 30 minutes, then remove the cover and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature hits 210.