My friend Michael recounted what his daughter was singing in the car the other day: “I want to be a princess with short hair and a purple pony.” Thea is 4. What a great image! I couldn’t help but laugh. I can’t remember what I wanted to be when I was little. I can hardly imagine even being little. I think I was born an adult. Maybe that’s why it is so important for me to be around little kids; to try and identify that silly part of me that is just waiting to get out! I do remember dressing up with my girlfriend Melissa when we were about 10. We were both daughters of divorced women, still something of a rarity then at our elementary school. We’d wear saris (who knows where she got them from) and walk around the Stanford University campus which is filled with eucalyptus trees and big expanses of nature. We always took a picnic with us, and one of our very favorite snacks were matzo crackers.
And there it is. My coach said something today that is apparently a truism in the world of psychology. I hadn’t heard it put that way before, but felt it to be true for me: “The way a person handles one thing is the way he handles another thing.” It’s kind of like saying we are each a series of repeating patterns. And in a related vein, it is also kind of like the adage, “As above, so below.” Or like, “Each grain of sand contains within it a blueprint of the universe.” I won’t extend this metaphor too far into the realm of the spiritual, in case some of us (like me these days) don’t see how we are each ripples or repetitions of a grand pattern. Anyway, back to “it”, or my pattern.
Even in that childhood experience I was into the fusion of cultures and cuisine. Indian dresses and matso crackers and Japanese bottled sparkling water. Last week I was back “home” on the Cap d’Antibes where I lived for 5 years. That is the longest I have ever lived in one place. I built my little house there as a hide-out from my fast-paced life commuting from Silicon Valley to London. It was a refuge I thought I would visit on weekends, when I was based in London. But I went one June and stayed for 5 years. My life there was kind of hard. Business had tumbled after 9/11 and I didn’t speak French when I arrived so I felt a little isolated. During those years I cultivated a little vegetable garden and invited nearly everyone I met – from builders to restaurant owners, writers and artists – to eat dinner. There were, on occasion, the odd ex-pat, English speaking visitors. But mostly they were French. I remember one dinner when one guest nearly choked on his food from the shock of actually enjoying what he’d just put into his mouth. “How is it that you know how to cook? You are an American!” That was not an unusual experience for me there, and probably one of the reasons for feeling so isolated at times. My “new” friends never stopped reminding me of how different I was from what they expected so I was never really completely relaxed, except when I was in the kitchen cooking – before the guests arrived.
I spent the weekend at the house of my ex-neighbors because I sold my little bijou house on the Plage de la Garoupe. They were out of town so I had a lovely wander down memory lane and down Chemin de la Plage (my old street). I remember the 4 and 7 year old sister and brother who would knock at my door at any time after school or on the weekend to ask me, “Is it time for us to bake brownies now?” Brownies were my signature dish while I was there. My only tribute to American food. The boy across the street, a little older, also came to cook and do homework at my house. Once he walked in on what he still refers to as a hurricane of hot peppers! My son and I were making our yearly batch of mole sauce. It is a Oaxacan recipe and takes about 10 hours to make. My young neighbor couldn’t imagine what we were doing with so many varieties of peppers. I have the last batch of mole that I made with my son last year in the freezer. He is no longer here, but hopefully he will be looking down at me when I serve this incredible labor of love at the Nomad Chef Secret Restaurant dinner on the 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday). I appropriated the idea of the Nomad Chef from him. He was the first Nomad Chef but we were both nomads. He learned to cook with me when he was very young, and then as our children often do, he completely surpassed me. But I am learning from him now, even in his absence.
So here I am again, doing what I always do because I am just a series of repeating patterns – cooking my way out of the darkness, teaching children (and adults) to cook and reveling in the fusion of culture and cuisine. I don’t think I want to have short hair and a purple pony, but I am looking forward to finding my inner princess and to singing out loud again!