I’ve been reading m.f.k. fisher a bit obsessively lately. (Less successfully, I tried to emulate her style in the summer heat, wrapping Heidi-esque braids around my head. Instead of looking ’40s-understated-glamorous, I just look silly). A coworker watched me unwrapping some foccacia bread at lunchtime awhile back, and as we got to talking about making food, asked if I had read Ms. Fisher. I hadn’t. It took me a long time to actually get down to doing it. And, like most recommended things that we put off looking up or reading or trying, I now wonder how I ever lived without it.
I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.
When I first read those lines, they clattered, loudly, to the floor of my head, rattling around with that truthfulness that you can never verbalize yourself, but as soon as you see the black-and-white words, becomes incredibly clear. It’s been a strange, sad year for me, to be honest. I have clung to simmering, baking, growing, gathering, and providing with an urgency that exceeds my understanding. That sense of urgency was behind the creation of The Yellow House. It continues to drive me, on the days when I rush home from work to use my hands, as I prod my tiny, alkaline, city backyard bear fruit, and as I wheedle and cajole friends to at least come over for a glass of wine and dinner before we head out to bars.
It has been difficult to describe to other people, though, that this was never about food. It’s about the life around the food and the people who produce it; the life around hunger and the process of satisfying it. That Fisher quotation comes from a passage where she asserts that we are all hungry. Truth, beauty, knowledge, love, or literal hunger for food—we seek these things as humans, ravenous for the next meal. M.F.K. put words to that for me. That’s what I’ve been doing, I thought, reading the lines again. I’m nourishing. I’m sustaining my beloved few against the hungers of the world..Last month, though, Ben, my friend Danielle, Lou, and several other of those ‘beloved few’, threw me the best birthday in memory. When my blindfold was removed, the long, outdoor table was set; the food was ready; the bread was baked; candles were lit—everyone was already holding a drink. I was the one being gathered in, being nourished. There was nothing to do but accept, to sit. And we did.
There is a certain grace in receiving, and to be honest, it’s a gracefulness I find hard to cultivate. I am downright bad at it—compliments, gifts, all of it. I tend to consider myself more suited for the provision and nurturing than the receiving and being-taken-care-of. That sort of logic fails, though, as soon as you open your eyes and see that the same people you’ve “nourished” have given back to you, a thousand times over.
There was dinner, my favorite kind of meal, where everyone lingers, and conversation continues ’til the candles burn all the way down. There was music, and wine, and even some gifts. There was cake, with fig preserves and orange blossom honey and other unspeakably lovely things in it. There were zinnias, my current favorites, all grown by Ben. The dark settled in around us, and there were wish lanterns. Do you know what these things are? They’re brilliant. A tissue paper globe is suspended over a cartridge—when lit, the air inside the tissue paper heats, like in a hot air balloon, and the whole thing slowly begins to rise, tugging at the hands of the people holding it, until it sails up, into the night.
I ate the food in front of me, drank the wine that was poured. I stole kisses and was wrapped in hugs, listened to songs, and licked icing from my fingers. I made wishes, and the night air tugged them from my grasping fingers, and carried them up into the sky. I provided none of it. I took it all.
Birthdays are a nice time—almost better than new year’s, in a way—to reflect and make resolutions. This year, I’m aiming for balance. We can’t nourish without being nourished ourselves; can’t sustain others without our own sustenance. It requires a little letting-go, which, for someone like me, can be scary. I am lucky, though, to have those beloved few to remind me: I am not alone against the hungers of the world.
Recipe soon, I promise. // Photos by our sweet friend Mariah.