Thanksgiving, Leonard Cohen Passing, and Donald Trump Winning: Gratitude anyone?
Every day I cook at home, and every day I write about food, about healing the soul with it, about the importance of home cooking.
Every night, before going to bed, I also write a gratitude list.
Many are the things I am grateful for in life, and I can easily list them on paper, even when the day has been a tough one. I always prepare a good supper, even when I can’t find in my pantry an ingredient or two, or if I am not in the mood for apron and ladle. I always find peace in the kitchen.
During this past week, however, since Election Day to be precise, I wasn’t able to do either. Just the thought of posting a recipe on my blog, or the photo of my latest dish on Instagram felt inappropriate, shallow, out of place.
“How can I be grateful,” I thought as I left Manhattan for JFK, “when America has just chosen a president whose ideas and principles I fear, I do not agree with, and I cannot respect?” I lowered the tinted car window half-way, and I touched the black leather of the seat against my jeans; I felt guilty for not respecting another human being, but then again, how could I respect hate, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and greed?
I lowered the window all the way down and looked outside, behind me; as the skyscrapers became smaller and smaller to my eye, I wondered whether my future child would ever experience the vital energy of New York City as I had. With tears in my eyes, perhaps caused by the sadness I nestled inside, perhaps by the strong wind that blew as the car accelerated to merge onto the freeway, I also wondered if my future child would ever swim in the majestic ocean that touches Los Angeles, where I live, or play in the snow, so abundant when I was growing up in Avigliana, a small town in the Italian Alps.
“Will new generations be able to eat freshly baked bread, to make their grandmother’s traditional dish for their grandchild, and to buy organic produce at the local farmers’ market?” I asked myself, too.
Cooking food, and sharing it with those I love, always helps me in moments of difficulty. Writing down things I am grateful for always helps me distance myself from feelings of envy, jealousy, discontent, or resentment.
As the car merged onto the freeway, I looked about me: my husband was holding my hand tight. Our eyes met, and almost like magic, the morning we had just had flashed before my eyes.
Before leaving Manhattan, in fact, we had stopped for lunch at Mon Petit Cafe, our favorite, a lovely French tearoom-style cafe on Lexington and 62nd.
We had sat down, and looked at the fresh-cut yellow flower on our table, different every day. We had ordered coffee, and quiche with broccoli and cherry tomatoes, velvety and so soft that it had soothed my aching throat. In fact, it was raw from the night before: “Whose street? My street! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!” I had chanted with thousands of scared and very unhappy citizens.
At the end of the meal, we had both indulged in the café’s crème brûlé à la lavande, and smiled as the caramelized sugar that covered the silky custard had cracked to reveal the tenderness beneath. “There is a crack in everything,” Leonard Cohen said. “That’s how the light gets in.”
Back in the car, I realized that even though I hadn’t written about food, or about gratitude in the past few turbulent days, I was still able to enjoy the flavors, textures, and colors of the food I ate. I could still talk about cooking, too; I had the pleasure of meeting Alessandra Mac Carthy, the executive chef and owner of Mon Petit Café. “I just wanted to tell you that I am a big fan,” I had said to her. She had smiled, thanked me, and showed me why she hadn’t been in the kitchen for the past few months. Seeing her glowing, and pregnant, was like a sorbet that cleansed my palate.
It was November 13th: almost half of ‘Gratitude Month’ had passed by, not so much brushing against my skin as scratching it, violently – like a cold, wild wind that signals winter.
On November 24th, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. We will be making pumpkin pies, oven-roasted Brussels sprouts, green bean casseroles, stuffing for turkey (or its vegetarian substitutes), cranberry sauce, and sugar-glazed sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. On November 24th, we will sit at the dining table with our family, friends, and loved ones; we will hold hands, and we will share words of gratitude for what we have in our lives, for the food we will be about to eat, for our house, health, family, and so forth.
Many of us, however, will still be struggling with finding gratitude in a moment of darkness, like the one through which we are living. How can we be grateful, and at the same time concerned about the future of our country, about human rights, climate change, the equality of men and women, violence, war, the proliferation of guns, and about the epidemic of drugs to soothe the symptoms of our current spiritual crisis?
Many of us will be tempted to focus on the darkness of the current moment, and to forget that which we do have, what we can do, what we are already doing to change things.
So for Thanksgiving I wish everybody the gift of gratitude; the president-elect may not be the one each of us had hoped for, but we still have the freedom to change the course of history, and this time hopefully for the better.
I am deeply grateful for that, and for so much more. Therefore, my Thanksgiving dinner will be food will be made of color, of light, and of bold flavors that I hope will nourish both the body and the soul. “There is a crack in everything,” Leonard Cohen said. “That’s how the light gets in.”