Tuesday, 20 September 2011 | 19 comments

My beloved few

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.

§ 19 responses to My beloved few

  • oh my goodness…. Words are failing me right now, except to say that you have shared feelings that I can relate to, on many accounts. I immediately wrote down the quote and will be looking into MFK Fisher. I also was thrown a birthday party this summer and feel I failed miserably at my thank you’s, although I am assured, I did just fine. Thank for your lovely words.

  • Megan

    Thank you for such a beautiful post. Your words fluidly paint the emotions and images of an evening of splendor. It’s so refreshing to read a blog that has true feelings guiding both the pictures and the paragraphs.

    Please continue to write these treasured posts.

  • gorgeously written, seriously. This is my dream as well and I ADORE that M.K. Fisher quote. I so often hold back on entertaining and feeding people as it can often get expensive, but I read that quote and remember all the goodness that comes from giving and nourishing. Thanks for sharing your birthday with us!

  • I am brand spanking new to your blog, and it’s the best thing I’ve stumbled across all week. This post is very special and your sentiments in terms of nourishment and graciously receiving are so, so important. Thank, Sarah (and happy birhtday!)

  • “We can’t nourish without being nourished ourselves; can’t sustain others without our own sustenance.”

    So true. I’ve been working on a lot on self-care lately, the irony being that I recommend it to clients but have trouble following my own advice.

    Beautifully written, and a good reminder as my own birthday hurtles towards me (an occasion I rarely handle with grace).

    • Don’t we all do that (give people advice we should be taking ourselves)? I even remind myself that I need to work on these things, but rarely follow through. Honestly, writing a post about how bad I am at it is kind of a cop-out, on my part—I need to put my money where my mouth is :) Thanks so much, Stacy.

  • This is lovely. Thanking for writing something that gave me pause in the middle of my day to consider what really matters.

  • This is so incredibly lovely — my dream, to throw a party like this for someone! And the Fisher quote: yes, and always. It so resonates me, as it’s how I hope I live my life as well … though of course I could do more. Thank-you for the reminder.

    And, happy birthday!

  • This is so lovely, Sarah. I can completely relate to everything you are saying, especially since we live in the same town and have a what I’m sure is a very similar life pace! And what a party…it is so reassuring albeit surprising to know how much we are loved, isn’t it? Now I must get to this Fischer book…I have a feeling I will have similar sentiments!

  • chuupa

    are those wish lanterns a fire hazard? also what happens to them after? do they get tangled up in trees or end up in people’s back yards?

    • Less of a fire hazard than a litter hazard, unfortunately. Obviously you don’t let them go in wooded areas, don’t let them go on windy nights, etc. We were in a very open area and they just go straight up—unbelievably high—until they burn out. Then, of course, the tissue paper part falls to the ground. Ours were the “eco” kind, but it still makes me a bit uncomfortable…

  • A lovely post. It’s hard to come by such well written post that’s able to make people pause and think about whats really important in life.

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