Chocolate pudding has always been my comfort food—and, contrary to what the title of this post might suggest, my momma makes a great one. That hot, creamy Cook N’Serve of my childhood was pure heaven to the both of us more nights than I can count. We’d pull out the tiny cardboard box, rip open a paper envelope, combine the contents with milk on the stove and whisk and heat that mixture until it grew into a thick, creamy, throat-coating dessert. I liked it best when it was hot, almost steaming. But we’d both also eat it cold, having been covered with wrap in the fridge. It was milky. It was rich. It was the first thing I’d reach for when I’d had a rough day. But lately, I’ve been learning there’s more than one kind of creamy, chocolate comfort.
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Every spring, when the ground brings new life and the trees turn every shade of green, I think of Julius.
Julius and I met in grad school. He wore silver-rimmed spectacles, ironed business shirts and dress pants and a neatly trimmed reddish-brown beard that was quickly going gray. He came to class with his work I.D. still on his shirt pocket and a bag or briefcase carrying his books and papers in his hand. When he spoke, you’d hear an accent, betraying the Eastern European setting from which he’d come, but, he told me, he and his wife had lived in America quite a while. The first class we took together was a Travel Writing course. It was a workshop class, meaning we’d turn in copies of our assignments to each other and then discuss them, as a class, together. I’d write short, sweet pieces about places like the Wisconsin Northwoods; he’d write long, flowering tales about dining with locals in Morocco.
One October, walking from the fluorescent lights and metal chairs of our night class out into the crisp, cool air of Chicago fall, I told Julius how autumn was my favorite season.
“Do you feel this air?” I asked him as we walked side by side, breathing in deep for emphasis. “I mean, is there anything better? I wish it were fall all year.” I might have talked about pumpkins and apple-picking and Halloween.
“Yes, it’s nice,” this man, 15 or 20 years my senior, responded, almost as if to appease a child, with none of my enthusiasm.
“And I bet you didn’t know this,” I began, my volume increasing and my words coming fast. I was about to share with him a rehearsed party anecdote, a standby that, at the time, was finding its way into any conversation I had about the colors of fall, sort of the way I’m always jumpy today to tell people that dislike for cilantro is a genetic trait. “When leaves turn colors each fall,” I said to him, “they’re actually shedding a layer, revealing the true colors that were always there, underneath. People think the leaves are turning but really they’re just showing what they always were, down in there, but we couldn’t see it! How amazing is that? ”
I waited for his elation and surprise, for him to join me in proclaiming fall’s glory. Instead came counter argument.
“Actually, that’s sort of how I feel about spring!” he said to me, his eyes growing wide as his volume raised to match mine. “All the green! The emeralds, the pale greens, the yellow greens! Everything becomes so alive!”
I hate to say it, but I think at that moment, walking with Julius to our cars in a dark parking lot, I saw spring for the first time.
I was thinking about that conversation, some seven years ago or so now, last week, when Tim and I walked through the park on a 70-something-degree day in Nashville April. There were white buds on branches, pink flowers on trees, leaves of all different shapes and sizes sprouting along a lazy creek.
The sky was fiercely blue—bluer than the bluejay we’ve seen around our house lately, bluer than the ocean hitting white sands—and the smell of grass was in the air. I was thinking about it when we brought home bags of greens from the grocery store and set plates of arugula on our table for dinner one night, streaming sunlight falling on the table.
There’s a verse in the Psalms that exclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,” and another in the New Testament that rejoices, “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
This spring, with salads like this arugula one, that’s what I’m thinking about: the wonder of a created world with ordered seasons, the kind we can count on to come, and how noticing them, while walking parks and while eating dinner, makes me rejoice.
Tim and I came home yesterday from a quick weekend visit to Chicago. The first time we’ve been back since Christmas, this trip was a whirlwind of loud, excited family conversation, the kind that leaves you out of breath, with everyone talking over everyone else; long, lazy mornings, the ones you almost forgot how much you loved, complete with a certain white, fluffy dog breaking down gates and waiting outside your bedroom door until you let him in; a blog meetup downtown, organized by the just-as-lovely-in-person! Nicole of Eat This Poem, whose months-ago idea for extending her work conference led to a Saturday lunch made up of six people who’d driven, taken trains, walked city blocks and navigated parking garages to come out and share a few hours with some of the Internet voices they find dear. Read more…
In the time since we last spoke, I did not make black bean soup; Tim and I took a look at our remaining refrigerator loot on Friday and, supplemented by his work lunch and a homemade weekend dinner from friends, spent the next three days eating sumptuously from its contents instead. Sunday, we did not go grocery shopping with the masses; we decided we hate grocery shopping with the masses (so instead we went to Indian food and took advantage of a free museum deal and pushed our weekly shopping routine to Monday afternoons).
But here’s something we did do: Sunday night, lazy and happy and on a mission to clean out our refrigerator shelves before the next day’s shop, we made this large, filling, easy, simple salad—we’re calling it a Sunday salad, because it’s the kind of salad you make at the end of a long week of good eating, merging together all the remnants of the seven days past.