I don't think I'm unique in feeling like the family lone wolf, the outlander. So many people feel this way. Having babies of my own has softened the sting of feeling so singular in my own family of origin. Growing wiser, and the empathy that evolves from parenting...all that has probably helped, too. The more I pad my own tiny nest here in this house, the tighter I weave the connections to Jeff and our little ones, the more the sharpness of feeling, well, misplaced while growing up, softens. I know my place now. I get to decide where I belong.
I look to the work of building my family. I look to the connections, the commonalities. I'm not so interested in the differences these days. Common ground is sometimes a tiny isthmus requiring forgiveness, presence, and a true desire to be loving. Love begets love. I return, I return, I return, to this family I came from, and then I return to the family I belong to, and I see that I possess, as a daily choice, power and kindness, and the small children in my care teach me daily to make choices that will grow that power, that will feed the kindness. When I am loving to them, I call all the wolves to the circle. Nobody needs to be alone.
Part of this care is the nights we spend together at the table. When I make a family recipe, I sense that I am cooking with ghosts, my own memories, my own imaginings, incantations that connect me to the future that I feed and the past that has made me. I want my food infused with love. I seek the power and the kindness of memories. I seek to feed my family with the hope of honest delight in each other. The table is a place where we all can find common ground.
With the last okra of the season, I made this for my family tonight. Jeff didn't make it home in time for dinner. Benen and I sat the table; he and Gemma and I, and two dolls that had been the focus of their play most of the afternoon, the five of us sat down and I dished out bowls of this unassuming Greek peasant dish. (The kind of dish, by the way, where silence falls when it is served. because everyone is busy slurping away and enjoying). By a slight of maternal magic, my mother married into a Greek family and handed all these Greek dishes to me. It is her Greek cooking that infuses mine, and she doesn't carry a drop of Greek blood in her veins. I consider it part of that alchemy of nurturing - out of desire to connect and preserve traditions, my mother cooked for us. My turn now. I explained to Benen that Grandma taught me to make this, and that before her, Grandpa's mama might have made him something like this. I wasn't sure he followed the tale, until I heard him explaining the lineage to his daddy later this evening while Jeff sat and ate. I know he went to bed tonight feeling nourished and connected to his family. The kitchen and the table worked their magic.
Kota me Bamia (Chicken with Okra)
1 young pastured chicken, cut into 6 pieces (I divide it into breasts, thigh and leg left together, backbone, wings. I press the breasts flat with my hand to the same thickness of the thighs to help even cooking).
Salt and pepper (currently obsessed with pink sea salt)
4 large shallots or a medium sweet red onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup red wine
14 oz. chopped tomatoes (I can mine in balsamic vinegar and include the vinegar)
2 medium bay leaves
1 pound okra (choose small pods)
Generously salt and pepper the chicken on both sides. Heat the oil over medium high heat in a dutch oven and brown the chicken in the oil, in batches to avoid crowding the pan, about 10 minutes per side, until skin is crisp and golden. Remove chicken to a bowl, turn heat down to medium, add shallots and fry gently until soft. Add bay leaf and wine, bring to boil, scrape brown pieces off pan into sauce, add tomatoes, then place chicken over sauce, pouring in any juices that accumulated in the bowl. Season with pepper. Cover partially and cook at a strong simmer for 15 minutes. Prepare okra by wiping each pod gently with a clean dishcloth and slicing the stems off. At 15 minute mark, add okra to top of stew and cover completely, simmering for an additional 8 minutes. Turn heat off, remove lid, season to taste.
What do you bring to the table that connects you to the past? How do you link it to your future?