I really had trouble sitting down to write this morning after a week in which I found myself in tears regularly. It seemed silly, irrational, even ludicrous to be writing about food, recipes, and restaurants now. The pandemic, economic uncertainty, riots, and blatant racism are apparently the new normal. A normal that lacks grace and decency.
I just could not write “la la la…bake a cake…roll out some pasta…barbecue.” I could not write, I just couldn’t. Perusing cookbooks and cooking magazines didn’t help. So, I turned to the section of books on the shelf that are about the craft of writing.
Ann Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” caught my eye, and I knew what passage I needed to read. I used to have a copy of it hanging on my wall. I sat down at the kitchen table and opened the book.
“But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not to go into.
“When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in – then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.”
I put the book down and burst into tears. Underneath my frustration and anger rose a deep well of sadness for all the losses, pain and grief we suffer because we have such a hard time in uniting as the human race. Cried out, I pushed back from the table, stood, and walked outside to the garden. I spoke to the vegetables, coaxing them to grow and stay healthy. I thinned the French radishes, a necessity for their growth, but I hate doing it, the process makes me feel as though I am wasting food. At least this time I remembered to set aside the radish tops for a salad. Touching the earth with my hands was grounding. My feelings of powerlessness, anger, and grief released, it was time to head to China Alley.
I opened the doors to the Tea Room, where things are a bit of a jumble right now. Steve and I are cautiously optimistic that, in the near future, our doors will be open again and we will have more than our online presence. Trying to adhere to California’s twelve- page guidelines for reopening has proved to be challenging for us, especially as necessary supplies are not readily available. The Tea Room is small, just a room. In that space, we are reconfiguring furniture and furnishings to adhere to the social distancing. We want everyone to be and feel safe, and to enjoy a unique experience on China Alley. In the meantime, we appreciate your support, patience, and understanding.
Standing in the Tea Room kitchen, I was relieved to feel ready to toast spices, rinse rice, play with dough. But first I wanted to take a couple of long walks, looping around the Alley. One foot in front of the other, my eyes half closed, I walked the Alley and felt further restored by the peaceful hummings of the buildings and the heartbeat of time shared here through generations. At the end of my last lap, I stood in the center of the Alley and took a deep breath. That moment was home. And in that moment I felt hope in being home, in the roots of my own normal, despite all the challenges and wounds of the new normal we struggle with together.
In my freezer I had some lox, in the refrigerator I had some cream cheese. What else was there for me to do, but to try to make bagels for the first time? It wasn’t difficult at all. I need to work on the aesthetics, but the taste was spot on. Give this recipe and try – and hang on to hope.
Arianne Wing is the co-author of “Noodles Through Escargots,” and co-owner of the L.T. Sue Co. Tea Room and Emporium, benefiting the restoration and preservation of China Alley. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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