Just Stir the Chili

I’m pacing around the kitchen, feeling antsy. He hasn’t heard from the tech company about the job yet. God, how good would it feel to just finish something? I actually can’t remember that sense of accomplishment. It’s like having a panic attack, it’s a feeling that so indelibly anchors your body to the present and yet spreads your brains across the space-time continuum so that you’ll never be able to remember what it feels like in the moment. Yeah, I’m a wreck these days. It’s been like this for a while. I can tell it’s not depression this time, though, because I’m still getting normal life shit done. The kids are screaming about something. It’s happy. They’re toting stuffies  and getting shoes on, clambering out the backdoor in a frenzy of exclamation and giggles. Oh and there’s the smell of the coconut oil, hot in the pot on the stove. I dump in the red onion, the diced carrots. I’m making my signature pumpkin chili—thick, rich, aromatic, delicious—not because it’s cold outside (it’s not) or even because it’s fall, but because it’s something I can do well from start to finish—emphasis on the finish, here.

Stir the softening vegetables, adjust the heat. Girls are happily playing outside now. I think that gives me approximately five minutes of peace before they start fighting or return indoors hot, sticky, and covered in mosquito bites. I really don’t know why we still live here. It is certainly not by choice. Mind wandering, meandering, strolling along again. It’s fine until it turns to panic. But maybe that won’t happen tonight. And if it does, there’s always my daily allotment of a glass of wine. It’s a glamorous life I lead.

The onions are translucent now. Time to add the 100% organic grass-fed, sustainably raised ground beef. I wonder what it was like to live in a time in which one didn’t have to worry about such bullshit as, well, bull shit. Like, what was it like to just buy meat that somebody raised and support their livelihood in the process? Nope, this digression is not sanctioned. Back to the zen of cooking. God, but I do love the sound of that sizzle. Start browning and breaking up the beef, then chop some more veg. The trick to this chili is to layer the flavors. It’s all about timing and I love that because I have a sense for it. I don’t have to think about it much, I just do it and it happens and it’s magical and fills the house with the sounds and smells of good food.

I take care in cooking. I keep everything clean. I make a little pile of compost scraps on the counter that he later sweeps into the bin. I leave it out, not because I mind cleaning it up, but because it’s the proof of my care and labor in creating the meal. I didn’t just pull something out of the freezer and pop it in the oven. I wash the zucchini under cold water. The skin has hints of prickles. It reminds me of being a kid at Memommy’s old, white house in the Georgia summer, gorging on blueberries and eating homegrown produce for dinner from Shirley & JT’s garden. I’ve never since been able to replicate the Memommy summer tomato sandwich. It was a thing of beauty and delight, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve known since.

Now the mushrooms: gentle caresses to wipe away dirt, a cold trickle from the faucet, a few dabs with a paper towel. The brown that they leave behind on the towel is luscious and living. The zucchini sweats where I had to peel away a portion of the skin. Cut it lengthwise, then in long wedges, then dice it. This knife is sharp and weighted beautifully. It’s the type of knife that, as my father-in-law would conclude, I had no business buying. But it has changed my life, having a good knife. Just because I only cook for my family doesn’t mean I don’t deserve a good knife. EVERYONE deserves a good knife. I’ll email Oprah later.

The kids are back inside. They’re both talking to me, but my mind is in another universe.

Stir. Chop the mushrooms. Stir. Add the zucchini and mushrooms. Turn down the heat. Mix up the spice blend. Stir, stir, stir. Add the pumpkin. Stir. Add the tomatoes and the broth. Stir. Let it simmer. That’s it. Back to pacing and musing.

The kids are pouting, lounging on the couch. They don’t have TV to entertain them/rot their brains. I think of how much more I could have accomplished by now in my life if television hadn’t been a part of my childhood. Perhaps I would have faced more boredom, but I know damn well that I would have created something meaningful by now. The kids are fighting. I’m pacing again, facing regret. Maybe it’s time for that glass of wine. Just one. I pop, pour, sip. I take it slowly, but not too slowly. That hum of peace that washes down my esophagus and flattens itself against the inside of me. What a feeling. It’s almost a tomato sandwich feeling. Almost.

The chili simmers. It fills the house with its nuanced fragrance. Each room takes on the scent of a different layer. In the bathroom, it’s always the garlic layer. I slide my back down the smooth face of the cabinet, sit on the kitchen floor and sip, thinking still, but not ever able to tune out the tensions rising between the kids. I’ll parent; I’ll help them figure this out. I won’t yell this time. But even so, I feel the tightening in my gut, the frustration throbbing against my temples. I get up. I put down the wine glass. I stir the chili.

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