An Ordinary Dinner

One day almost two years ago now, I was chopping carrots for split-pea soup. We had returned from a trip a couple days before and there wasn’t that much in the house. Split-pea soup – with chipotles for smoke flavor and copious butter to impart some of the fattiness that ham would – was one of my standard end-of-the groceries dishes. Butter, onions, garlic, a chipotle, carrots, some fresh herb if there was some in the fridge.

It was May 29, 2004, 5:45 p.m., three hours and twenty minutes after the linked post above. Having cut the carrots lengthwise, I began to cut them crossways into neat bits the size of the split peas so the dish would be harmonious, when what felt like an invisible wall of water slamming into my back and sucking me away from shore came over me. I felt frightened and disoriented; I set down my knife and gripped the edge of the counter, holding myself up, and reassured myself that I was just feeling momentarily strange for some indefinable reason, probably just one in my occasional series of panic attacks, and that it would pass if I would just keep breathing normally.

To make a long story short and sort of cliched, I am still waiting.

That was the instant that my chronic fatigue syndrome began, though when I look back I think the cold I had a month before that I traveled with is where the downhill movement might have started, and though no epidemiologist would ever believe there was a causal relationship, I don’t think things were ever quite right after the flu shot I had at the end of the previous year.

That’s why there are fewer posts and fewer recipe posts here than there were two years ago.  It’s not cancer or MS, this thing, but it does put a very real and non-negotiable – and sometimes variable and unpredictable – limit on what I can do.

I do occasionally manage a little kitchen work now, mostly on weekends. On weeknights, I rely on Chimp, who has taken over ably and without complaint. Once in a great while, I manage to chop a few things before falling down in front of the computer or on the couch.

I did a little of that last night. I sharpened a knife that needed it, too, while I was at it; I was reminded that there is no better test of a knife’s sharpness than the skin of a green pepper against a cutting board. I still carry all that kitchen information around, all the ingredient matches and where-it-comes-from, measurement equivalents, chemistry, what works and what doesn’t, which oil, what temperature, this pan, that utensil, when to stir, when not to… I miss using it.

It was terribly difficult to let someone else cook for me at first, but not really being able to stand, I had no choice. I was losing something I loved, something I did mostly for my own satisfaction and for its meditative effects, though of course I loved feeding someone on a daily basis whom I adore.

There’s no real reason to note this recipe down. It’s one of a thousand corn salads I’ve made, and it’s mostly apparent from the photo; corn, spinach, cucumber, green pepper, red onion, garlic, salt and pepper, lime juice, a little oil, cilantro. I made it to have something cool to pile on top of hot lime-spiked black beans made in the morning by Chimp. I added some slices of avocado to my plate atop the salad.

I was able to stand and chop, though my energy was flagging by the time I got to the red onion, when my knife slipped dangerously and I thought to myself you’ve been handling knives much longer than it takes to know not to do what you just did. The lime juice went in, the force of pressing the lime halves down on my antique glass citrus reamer having required a bit of mental effort to summon the physical effort, and it was done. 

It was not homemade puff pastry, a three-hour batch of Indian milk fudge, a complex, carefully executed sauce or even a complete meal, but I had something material to show for my own hands’ effort with which to nourish myself.  That’s a victory.  Sometimes you just take them where they come.

I haven’t cooked split-pea soup since; I’ve never even considered it. It happened that those were the last split peas I had in the house – and I have never bought more.

2 thoughts on “An Ordinary Dinner

  1. Thanks, Janet. We’ll see what the future brings. For now, I’m just happy to be able to cook occasionally and write more frequently again. Those feel like pretty great achievements this year.

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