After my mother died, I wanted to make things. I’m a writer, so that meant books
and stories and zines, but I wanted to make things I wasn’t any good at making, too. Sometimes it’s sad not to have a mother, but for me it also means not having anyone who will say, “that’s not good enough—you really shouldn’t try to do things you have no talent for, Ariel.”
So I started drawing little cartoon pictures, too. And making food. Lots of food. No one said my drawings looked professional or anything, but they said they made them feel like maybe they could try to draw something, too. And no one said I should open a restaurant or anything, but they came over and we shared some nice pie.
See, my mother wasn’t the kind of mother who always fed me or thought to nourish me, so it became this act of independence and some odd rebellion to feed myself, to let my new girlfriend feed me. It was like some small prayer, this making food, this eating, this being needy. It became a way of pushing past my conditioning, past all the things I had been taught about myself. It was a way of saying, okay, maybe the person who pushed me into this world didn’t find me worthy of care, but I don’t have to carry that with me. I’m hungry. And that’s all right.
Still, sometimes it’s so hard. Food and love are all mixed up. And body and image and sex. And now you’re eating too much and now you’re starving yourself.
Taste and care.
Need and prayer.
I’d picked up my new girlfriend on the internet. She was a chef. And when it was time for a first in-person date, she invited me to Four Star Tattoo.
I was hurt and ready. My mother had just been admitted to the hospital again, would live less than three months. I wanted stars tattooed on my hips.
The chef needed a shark fin on her biceps to begin to balance the African violets she’d just gotten inked on her other biceps for her newly dead parents. Tattoos and death. It felt auspicious. We were learning how to be orphans, the chef and I.
The first night we spent together was sweet and scary. I’d just walked away from a ten-year almost-marriage that left me jaded and self-doubting. Everything felt like loss and endings. But this new thing wanted to spring up, too. Maybe I wouldn’t always be so jaded.
Night. And in the morning, the chef had to get up early to teach a cooking class. I attended. Of course I attended. She was so cute, all sleepy-eyed in her chef coat!
And as it turns out, New Mexico red chile sauce is a pretty good heart-mend:
Red Chile Sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely diced onion
2 to 3 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup pure ground medium red chile powder (you can get Chimayo red on the internet if you don’t have a nice local co-op market that carries it)
2-1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seed
salt to taste
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and sauté the onion for 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more.
Stir in the chile, Mexican oregano, and cumin and cook until fragrant. Slowly add the water, whisking to break up any lumps, and bring it all to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened slightly. Salt to taste.
Now just pour your red chile sauce on anything you like. Fresh tortillas. Chicken or tofu or beans or eggs. Keep it in your fridge and put a little on everything you make.
A serving of chile has two to four times as much vitamin C as an orange. Maybe that’s part of the reason it’s such a good heart-mend. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, it works. Eat red chile once and you’ll feel better. Eat red chile every day for a month and you’ll be mended.
I mean, you’re not going to be a brand new baby or anything, but you’ll feel fine.
“The Indiana Jones of literature,” says ChuckPalahniuk.net.
Author, editor, literary coach.
Her books include Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), the critically acclaimed writing guide How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead (Three Rivers), the Booksense pick novel The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show, the Oregon Book Award finalist Atlas of the Human Heart, and cult classic The Hip Mama Survival Guide.