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On the Power of Food

On the Power of Food

Velta's kitchen is packed with well-loved essentials. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Velta's kitchen is packed with well-loved essentials. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

In my past life I was a single professional in a city packed with foodie havens. I never cooked with any real gusto until after my Hashimoto's diagnosis. In order to jump start my healing I needed to follow an intensely strict elimination diet known as the Autoimmune Protocol.

A dear friend of mine, who regularly cooks with gusto, spent months teaching me everything I know. Like literally everything as in his starting point was hard boiling eggs. I woke up jet lagged and famished on my first morning in the Latvian countryside to discover the bus to the village market didn't run that day.

I had to channel my muse and get creative. 

Quickly.

And with gusto. 

Velta had eggs on hand. She was happy to share. She also grabbed the hem of my sweater and pulled me under the attic stairs, showing me where the root vegetables hide. I may need to eat this meal three times today, I thought to myself, but I can figure this out.

Simple food wins the day on the farm. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Simple food wins the day on the farm. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

The attitude meter for my three months In Latvia was set to the speed of: I Can Figure This Out.

No plumbing? Okay, I can figure this out. Fire for heat? Alright, I can figure this out. Haul water from a well to bathe in a small metal basin? I'm in, let's figure this out. A solid 80% of my motivation for coming here was so I'd be forced to figure my shit out. Rely on myself. Strip every last pretense I had. Teach myself that I can travel with even less than I think I can. Wake myself to the reality of how precious resources, and luxuries, really are. 

So there I was, waking up groggy and peering into an empty fridge. It was my first nudge from The Universe. I also get to figure out how to feed myself in the simplest of ways. I certainly got what I asked for. 

I chopped and fried potatoes, garlic, carrots, and onions, seasoned with turmeric + local sea salt + pepper, and plopped runny fried eggs on top. 

It sounds simple. And it was. But it was also spontaneous and resourceful. At my core I'm both spontaneous and resourceful, but my past life was rigidly planned and quite spoiled. In that dusty farmhouse kitchen I looked down at my simple breakfast and thought, "Okay then, you actually can do this." 

One of those meals that I'll remember forever. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

One of those meals that I'll remember forever. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

It took me a few days to get into a rhythm, but once I did it felt very natural to cook with what's on hand. Everything is earthy and plain in this countryside, the food being no exception. Making up every meal as I go has been totally liberating.

One night just shy of a week into my stay, Velta came in the kitchen to sit at the table and watch me cook dinner. She was curious, sorta smiling, mostly staring out the window at the melting snow. I pointed to what I was making and then pointed to her, raising my shoulders and my eyebrows. "Ya ya ya..." she muttered, her 'yes' sounding exactly like that of my late Grandma Jessen. Aside: I'm convinced that in some meta magical way, they're actually the same person. 

The meal over which Velta and I fell in love...  © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

The meal over which Velta and I fell in love...  © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

We ate our veggie hash + rice in silence, looking up to smile at each other every so often. When she was done eating she tipped her bowl toward me with a silent flourish of her hand. She was announcing to the world that she ate all of it. I smiled an exaggerated thank-you smile in return. She toothlessly smiled back.

And then she clapped. 

Actual applause. Like at the end of a symphony. 

I sensed the applause weren't for the food exclusively, but more an indication of her reticent acceptance that I won't actually die in these woods. She's been unsure of me, Velta has. Maybe rightfully so. On my first day here she flicked the hem of my thin sweater with her rough hands and muttered something as she walked away. I saw her watching me from the window the first time I went to the well for water, again on my first trip for firewood. 

It was in this moment at dinner, the moment when I proved myself useful not only at the well and in the woodshed, but in the kitchen...in this moment Velta welcomed me to her home. I've cooked breakfast for her every single day since. I adore the ritual. 

No boxes. No plastic. No waiters. Just ingredients. What a novel idea. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

No boxes. No plastic. No waiters. Just ingredients. What a novel idea. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Canvas bags hang on Velta's wall, stuffed with dried leaves, twigs, berries, anything suitable for tea. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Canvas bags hang on Velta's wall, stuffed with dried leaves, twigs, berries, anything suitable for tea. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

A fraction of the meat counter in the village market. Meat counters all over the world, markets as a whole really, tell you so much about a culture. I always check it out, even if I know I'll never cook a pig's head. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

A fraction of the meat counter in the village market. Meat counters all over the world, markets as a whole really, tell you so much about a culture. I always check it out, even if I know I'll never cook a pig's head. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

First time I ever grilled chicken thighs / backs on my own. Tada! © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

First time I ever grilled chicken thighs / backs on my own. Tada! © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Sometimes the path of least resistance is okay too. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Sometimes the path of least resistance is okay too. © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

I tore apart a smoked chicken yesterday (someone else did the smoking). That in and of itself was actually a milestone because I can get really persnickety and overly sanitized with my meat choices. I surprised myself when I got all anatomical with it, obsessed with hunting down every last bit of meat like it was a competition or something. 

My coup de gras? Today I'm using the bones to make stock for soup and saffron risotto. I watched my friend make stock every week for months (bone broth is essential for healing leaky gut and reversing autoimmunity), but now it's my turn. We don't have celery or carrots. It's Sunday and the bus isn't running. We do have onions, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, salt + pepper, and the smoky chicken skin. I hacked up the carcass and tossed it all in a pot with well water. I blazed up the giant wood stove and it's been simmering all afternoon. 

Chicken stock coming right up! © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Chicken stock coming right up! © 2016 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Because why not? The power of food isn't only in connecting to other people, many times across language barriers and age. The power of food has now become a way that I connect with the fearless, creative side of myself. 

Love, 
gail

P.S. You can read all of my Latvia posts here.

On Bathing as Luxury

On Bathing as Luxury

On Arriving

On Arriving