“Mama’s got her control freak on,” Ben always teases me.
But he has a point, because I do have some control issues, perhaps a residual of many years of controlling my feelings through food, alcohol, drugs, and sex. The deeper I go into my recovery, the more I am able to catch myself in the act of obsessively micromanaging life, and to let go of my will.
I’ve just come back from a brief visit to San Francisco and Big Sur with my husband and my parents, and as with every time that I’m in close, daily contact with other people for an extended period, I struggle to keep life ‘under control’. In fact, taking care of timelines, meals, and safety for more than one person at a time is tiring; I panic when things don’t go according to my masterplan. And having to constantly split my brain between Italian and English (Ben and my parents try, but…) doesn’t help.
We arrived in San Francisco on Monday evening, and of course my first concern was where to eat, somewhere that would make everybody happy. And as so often happens, it’s when food is involved that I learn a new life lesson, and thus am more likely to work on myself.
It was getting late, and nothing seemed to satisfy me. I was starving, and I never make things easy for those around me when I am hungry.
So after almost an hour researching restaurants online with Ben, we decided to try The Slanted Door, and buy dinner to my parents who had just celebrated 41 year of marriage.
The only table available was at 9 pm, but I wanted to eat earlier. I made things difficult at first, but eventually I chose to let go in order not to ruin the evening ahead. In fact, blinded by my needs, I couldn’t see how exciting it might be for my parents to visit the Ferry Terminal at sunset; they had never been to San Francisco before. I don’t think of myself as a selfish person, but when I struggle to obsessively supervision life I tend to forget about other people’s needs or desires.
But control is an illusion.
At The Slanted Door, seated at a table that faced the ocean and the playfully lit Bay Bridge, I had the best Vietnamese food I had ever tasted. Charles Phan’s vegetarian spring rolls with tofu, shiitake, cabbage, mint, and peanut sauce were the perfect appetizer for my hungry belly; light, crunchy, colorful and rich in flavor, they hit every note that the perfect appetizer should. The main course was second to none; the cellophane noodles with green onion, dungeness crab, and sesame were uniquely luscious — the spicy monterey squid, with pineapple, sweet red pepper, jalapeño, and thai basil a classic executed to perfection by chef de cuisine Michelle Mah and her team. The highlight of the night was Leslie Peng’s peanut ice cream, perfectly balancing sweet and salty, creamy and rustic in its texture on the tongue – elegant, satisfying, but not imposing.
I had not expected any of the above. By the end of the night we had taken beautiful pictures of the sunset, we had witnessed the ocean darken, and we had let the cold wind brush our skin, dry and tired as it was from the Los Angeles heat.
The following day, after a long walk up and down the hills of the town, we drove to Sausalito.
Just a month before, thanks to our friend Scott, I had sailed a boat for the first time, from Sausalito around Alcatraz, and under the Golden Gate Bridge. The wind was cold and the task demanding, but I felt so proud and full of life! For this evening in Sausalito, however, I had planned pizza at Bar Bocce, after which we would have driven back to the hotel and gotten some sleep. Sometimes I find myself afraid of life, so I search for safety in what’s predictable and familiar. But things didn’t go my way on the second day either, because Scott invited us all on his boat for dinner! Our part would be to pick up the pizza.
I was scared at first, reluctant to relinquish control yet again, but while Ben and I waited for our pizza-to-go at Bar Bocce, he reminded me of something we had heard from a Marianne Williamson recording earlier that same morning; it was about living every experience with love, not fear, or something along those lines.
And so I did.
And on Scott’s boat I ate pizza in the company of special friends who made my parents feel at home, notwithstanding the language barrier, and who taught me something about grace, and about the beauty of simplicity.
I had not expected that. And, with gratitude, I saw kindness, generosity, laughter, and pure joy.
A traveller’s food is always a guessing game, but so is life. I can walk against the wind, or I can use the wind to my advantage as I walk through life. The most beautiful things in my life have always been those I have not planned. Perhaps this experience can become yet another ingredient in the recipe for life, and perhaps I won’t so often hear my husband say, with a smile,
“Mama’s got her control freak on…”
Oh, since the drive was long, in the car I snacked on my mom’s homemade corn biscotti, Paste di Meliga. Click on the RECIPE page for instructions and ingredients.
I look forward to your takes on this classic from Piemonte.