[Chicken paprikash, a la Wodehouse, a la a really old, run-off copy of a page from Good Housekeeping my mom passed down to me ages ago, with a tiny “Yo!” in the corner I doodled on her recipe sheet while chatting with a friend on the phone in the kitchen circa 7th grade.]
There’s a reason why I always ask people: “What’d your order look like?” when I hear they’ve been out to eat. What people eat is such a window. I’m a voyeur in restaurants; what people choose to put in their mouths is fascinating. There’s nothing I wouldn’t eat, after all.
Except when I’m off-kilter. On most days, I equate my palate—and tummy—with my soul’s immediate condition. I don’t look back fondly on that stretch of months during which my anxiety was so severe, I subsisted solely on coffee, red wine, and Tyson’s Southern Style Chicken Nuggets. [Mommy loves you, nuggy babies. 1.5 on high + honey = true love. 4eva.]
Some days, your soul has to override the system. It’s got to come out through your eyes and hands and hammer out a demand on the end of the dining room table. A demand you weren’t keen to, as far as gastric awareness goes. And you don’t go serving it dog food.
Like the onion I picked up and threw in the shopping cart without being sure why. Then the sour cream, followed by the gradual mental checking-off of pantry contents: broth, paprika, oil, my favorite sea salt. I may not be sly as a fox, but my stomach certainly is.
And when the rhythm of cooking without a recipe or a timer took over, the day, too, melted away. And the room got warm. I got loose. Somewhere inside, my various inhospitable parts shook hands and agreed on something. My heart handed my head a drink with a slow, knowing nod.
And Rob, fresh off a rough couple of days, moseyed in, rubbing his hands together, unsure where to stand in the narrow space. So I handed him the wooden spoon and a half cup of sour cream, and he made the best paprikash I’ve ever had.
That’s when you get the power of food. I certainly do.