Sunday, June 17, 2018

Traveling Through Life

A sunny Friday. The first sunny day in a while. The days, cloudy and rainy of late, are draining me. I’m still getting used to the weather patterns now that I’ve moved to coastal Maine. I awake, bleary-eyed, arrive to work a few minutes later than planned, waiting for the dreariness to pass. Long used to getting a mellow caffeine fix from green tea, I turn to iced coffee a couple of days a week. I follow those coffee fixes with a period of frenetic jitteriness, and then an epic slump.

Still, I love my new job. I have coworkers, where previously I was the sole person in my role. In the dreary days, I find solace in my new peers, people that I can freely chat with about finding the perfect Montreal style bagel or lobster roll. We mainly keep to ourselves, but we coalesce when we find common grounds - finding authentic Philly cheesesteaks, discussing the nuances of barbecue, etc. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems our commonalities often fall around food.

So let’s back up. How did I become such a one track mind? I recall hanging out with the grandmas, watching them make wild plum jam, fried chicken, apple pie, biscuits & gravy. My parents let me watch Food Network in high school - Molto Mario, Boy Meets Grill, and the like - on weekends and anytime I was stuck at home sick. They let me experiment in the kitchen. I made balsamic chicken that was thoroughly mediocre. I made myself tomato & rice soup that had so much cayenne that I barely could eat it. But then I refined. And learned. And refined again.

Once I graduated college, my fiancé and I promptly got married. We moved into a tiny apartment on the back of a house owned by Jan, a Dutchman, and he treated us well, sharing his home brewed beer and introducing us to neighbors, all while charging a cheaper rent than we could find in most other parts of town. Cooking on our own, we endured some truly terrible meals, including a stir-fry made of stew meat and (yeah, I’m ashamed of this) Hamburger Helper. Oftentimes we’d end up at the pub down the street, where they served Boar’s Head deli sandwiches with a cheap beer to wash it all down.

The laundromat near our tiny apartment changed things. I don’t know who left them there, but frequently someone dropped off “fancy” magazines - Town & Country, Gourmet, etc. - but I quickly became enamored. Working a $12/hr entry-level HR job and sitting in a laundromat on the weekends, waiting for my department store clothes to finish tumble drying in the machine, I found myself lost in a Gourmet article about how Afghanistan was the Paris of the Middle East, before the Soviets came in.

I soon turned to every food magazine our meager living would allow. Issues of Gourmet or Bon Appetit would appear on the racks at the hospital gift shop where I worked and I would hungrily pay for them through a swipe of my employee badge (realizing too late that it reduced my take home pay). We were an “early adopter” of cable cutting - read: we were too frugal to pay for it - and Netflix streaming was yet to exist. So I read, avaricious for anything I could learn, and continued to try my hand in the kitchen.

Things changed quickly when we decided to move to Burlington, VT. I took an HR job at a telecom company, a step up from my prior job, where I spent the next 10 years of my life trying to decide whether I loved or hated my job. I spent my now-meager spare time developing recipes from my notes, and sharing kitchen tips and tricks with neighbors. But mostly, I worked.

I sort of think it’s a shame that that’s all I can write about the past decade. We had good times, cooked delicious things, some of which are chronicled on the blog, but also said goodbye to wonderful people - including my grandfather, my husband’s grandfather, and my husband’s cousin who ended his life too soon. We had friends marry and have amazingly beautiful babies. We had friends over, for Halloween and post-Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day and the random days in between. But a retrospective of the blog reminds me of why I can’t say more; I wasn’t letting my work/life balance be... well, in balance.

But here’s what’s fun: We haven’t stopped learning. I’m still voraciously reading every issue of Saveur, Cooking Light (don’t judge, I’m in my 30’s now and have discovered I can no longer eat an entire Domino’s pizza with no consequences), and Food & Wine. We watch nearly every food-related show that we can stream - Parts Unknown, Mind of a Chef, Ugly Delicious being top on that list. My husband, after spending nearly a decade in the banking industry, went back to the kitchen. Then, we moved to Portland, ME, where I’m a systems analyst in healthcare and he works in a Spanish restaurant. We’ve been here just over two months and I am constantly in awe of the city and my new work-life balance. We are happy, and it is good.

So, my friends, I hate to get preachy, but let me say this: I started writing this after hearing of the passing of the ridiculously talented chef and writer Anthony Bourdain. (Yeah, I realized I buried the lead here. Sorry.) He was fundamental in my understanding of the world and of food, even if he couldn’t have picked me out of a crowd. I cried the night after I heard of his passing, yet another life gone too soon. I don’t normally cry for someone I don’t know personally; I’m just not that girl. But him? An exception - a terribly unexpected exception.

I was never in such a foregone mental state when in the depths of my troubles, but I implore all of my friends - or anyone reading this - if you need help or just someone to listen to you, please feel free to reach out to me. I’ve called friends at 2 AM when I thought they needed an ear to listen. If you need to talk, I will absolutely go out of my way to hear you. And if you don’t want to talk to me but need help from someone else, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

I am ready to continue this beautiful, messy, complicated, amazing tour through life. I hope that you will join me in welcoming the adventures to come.

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