I broke new grounds last night, finding myself in an odd sort of cooking class with a friend -- P. Cooking was the last thing on my mind then, so it was to my delight and P's dismay, as she loves to cook, that the class offered lectures rather than hands on practice.
I hadn't seen P for a while. She had come along with our small and odd group of four friends for that long and confusing funeral a few months ago. The whole thing was conducted in Chinese though my mind was too foggy and numb to even utter apologies about it. Hours after everyone had left, the four of us had stayed and sat together in an abandoned corner next to nearly emptied platters of fruit and biscuits, chatting on and on about nothing and about everything, none of which I can remember now. But I remember the sea of white flowers that had caused a small family feud, the sharp unfriendly smell of the funeral parlor and the sensation of staring into their familiar faces, speaking familiar words and feeling masses of heavy tight knots loosening in my chest. We talked until the place was ready to close and I was tired enough to try sleep again.
The cooking class was setup on the patio of a small Italian Bistro with twinkling lights and a big white tent. There we found a babbling chef - Sergio cooking up a four course Italian feast. He smiled at and talked to us without ever stopping to check that the knife dancing between slices of vegetables hadn't gotten one of his fingers. He smiled mostly at P as she had charmed him immediately with smart questions showing ample knowledge as well as curiosity for more. Their dialogues quickly livened up a timid group and some even accepted Sergio's invitation to participate. I was weary from another sleepless night, yet grateful for P's energy and enthusiasm. It was always a small miracle to pry her away from work at proper dinner time but tonight (Thanksgiving Eve) even more so, as she had spent a long day (and week) on cross continental calls in preparation for heading out to a mini thanksgiving getaway with her fiancé.
The garden was filled with sweet fragrances from herbs planted along the sides and the ginger spiced butternut squash soup bubbling on the stove. Mauricio served wine accompanying each courses while announcing them in sonatas of Italian phrases. We closed our eyes to be momentarily transported to Tuscany, to where our risotto traced its humble yet delicious origin. Food and wine sank into us while we sank into a relaxed silence, though Sergio still chanted instructions and waved his hands about steaming pots like a budding magician.
Tuscany would have been wonderful, I drifted in my thoughts.
Yet my limbs and my lids grew heavy, and as time went on, my belly and heart full. Maybe there was magic brewing in those pots after all. To me, comfort food had spelled out its magical power by squeezing out cool indifference and pretensions, replacing sadness and misery with the fragrance of friendship and acceptance.
"So how are you feeling now?" P finally asked between bites of deserts.
"Extremely full." I said.
"Yeah?" She started to smile again while raising an eyebrow.
The night wore on, somehow finishing as suddenly as it had started, leaving no room or time for more words. The night sky fell into a deeper velvety blue as the air cooled and tables and chairs around us cleared, yet memories of warmth and fragrance lingered.
So did a dozen other overly filled bellies, carrying that many more smiles out into the cooling night.