I’ve always been a good eater…according to those who have seen me eat. I was once in a cozy Russian eatery in Brighton Beach when three large locals approached our table. The largest one boomed at my husband; “Your wife, she’s Russian? She eats like Russian!” He took it as a compliment. When my husband was planning our honeymoon, my only request was that it was somewhere I could eat my weight in lobsters. But this gold star member of the Clean Plate Club is and was pathetic on her own.
In my twenties, I would come home from work and open a can of chick peas. If it was a special occasion I might microwave a potato. It’s not that I can’t cook, I hosted Thanksgiving dinner for my family since I had my first apartment. It’s simply that I have no interest in cooking, or eating real meals if there is no social component. Not surprisingly, upon hearing of my husband’s death my appetite was the first thing to go. Their words were still hanging in the air and my inner monologue was; “don’t throw up, don’t throw up.” I did not throw up. However, I also couldn’t eat, not even my favorite foods. I tried and had to spit it out like a truculent toddler. It took weeks until I could eat and when I could it was children’s food. Sugared cereals, spaghettios and instant mashed potatoes filled my pantry. Eventually, I began to reintroduce favorite foods. Some, took years to swallow.
There was a “dish” my husband grew up with and I also loved. It’s an odd little concoction, but I made and enjoyed it on most holidays. You’ve heard of pickled eggs? I’m pretty sure Archie Bunker had them at his bar. It’s basically a mixture of canned beets, vinegar, sugar and hard cooked eggs, left to do their thing for 24-hours. Scoff all you want, it’s good and colorful. The day before my husband died I had asked him if he wanted me to make the eggs before we went away for Thanksgiving (they don’t travel well; see “colorful” note above.) So there they sat in my fridge, pushed farther and farther back as the condolence food baskets arrived. There was some point at which I asked someone to throw them out. Since then, many holidays have come and gone, most of them excruciating reminders of what I’ve lost. I’ve tried to recreate, reinvent or totally ignore. Trust me, nothing works. But this past holiday season (somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas) I found myself craving pickled eggs. I gathered the ingredients and cried a bit while making them. I didn’t know if I would actually be able to eat them. I did. All of them. And then made a second batch.
Survival is full of surprises. Sometimes they are good.