Wednesday 22 September 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

(Sonia Cabano's recipe book Easy Simple & Delicious. It delivers on all three counts)

(Now, hush you food stylists you. I am proud of this roast chicken. This is the most delicious roast chicken anyone has ever made. This roast chicken was made with love, and hope, and music and memories)

A couple of weeks ago I received a series of letters from celebrated chef and food writer, Sonia Cabano. I know of her, I know people who know her well, but I, myself, have never met her. And yet, she took the time and trouble to write to me; to tell me that she was thinking of me during a time of immense grief when my friend Nicci died. Her letters were caring and deeply personal. And I am enormously humbled by the fact that she reached out to me, took the time to write to someone she did not know. That she generously shared precious memories of those she loved, that despite not knowing me at all, she managed to take away some measure of my pain. That she told me grief was a long process.That I would find that 'rituals and deeply meaningful celebrations' would with time, ease my sadness. And then she asked me if I had read a book by Elisabeth Luard called Sacred Food, and in doing so led me back to my own bookshelf where I found two other, almost forgotten books by the same author; Family Life - Birth, Death, and The Whole Damn Thing and the follow up Still Life.Books which I had read (and loved) in 1998, but which I am now looking forward to rereading. Because the time is right. Because we are hoping to become parents, and because I worry that I won't be a good mom, and because I fear that my relationship with my husband will change in ways I would not like it to. And because I'm not good with change, and because that which I desire the most is also what frightens me the most.
And even for these unspoken fears, Sonia offered the words that could comfort me 'New souls incarnating bring with them immense courage, pure joy and hope. And absolutely complete and unconditional love. Not only for their parents, but for themselves, and for life.' she wrote.
Some gifts are overwhelming in their enormity. These letters fall into that category. I am by nature an emotional person. I cry easily. I laugh loudly. I share much. But yet, secretly, I am afraid of 'what people may say', of how I may be judged, of being rejected or having my intentions misconstrued, which is why I all too often fail to reach out, especially to those I don't know well.
I have always stated that I desire to live and love fearlessly. I have much to learn. Sonia's emotional generosity has taught me that.
And so while I was wondering how to respond and thank her properly, I remember Nicci telling me that she had learned that sometimes people do things without wanting something in return. That random acts of kindness are simply random acts of kindness and that occasionally it's ok to just say thank you. And perhaps pay it forward.
So thank you, Sonia Cabano, for your random acts of kindness towards me.
And while I'm thanking you, may I also tell you how much I like your book. That in the past week I have made the Sticky cashew chicken on page 26, the Asian noodles with ginger, sesame, honey and chilli on page 97 and your Baked sweet potatoes with honey, ginger and sesame-soy butter on page 156.
But last night I really did you proud. The roast chicken with tarragon and lemon on page 146 was the celebratory meal, the meal that Jacques and I ate with laughter and wine and promises. And I did so without sadness. Without guilt. I used a very good chenin blanc as well. And I did not count calories as I rubbed the butter into the chicken. And I used too many celery sticks and carrots. And as always I overdid the lemon. But not much, two, instead of the one you recommended. You told me about your mom's roast chicken. One day I'll tell my child about yours. And how I came to have it. How when I was very sad, a stranger offered me comfort.

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