listening to my lunch

Thwack. I smack the knife down, through the yielding flesh of the roasted sweet potato, and onto the white cutting board. This one is ready.

Slurp. Time for more coffee before I start. The bitterness, the hungry heart of it waiting for me at the bottom, the longing in a cup of coffee — it’s all there, still. I sip, then gulp.

I curl the endive into itself, the tiny boat of it folding upward, shrugging away from the surface. Chop, chop, chop. Radicchio leaves, bright magenta almost too bright against this day’s grey light, stacked on top of each other, one after the other. The edges float upward. I roll them, tightly, the leaves squeaking beneath my fingers as I push them toward resistance, and then slice them up.

The house is silent. Is a house ever silent? There is the low thrum of the washing machine running, the sound of footsteps on the floor above, the music soaring over the fence from our neighbor’s radio next door. But today, all those sounds are dampened. I can only hear the knife, the squeak, the drizzle.

Avocado against knife has a clinging softness, a not wanting to let go. Endive is clean break. One side whole, the other cleaved. But avocado insists on lingering on the knife. I wipe it off.

I grab the mason jar with the murky brown liquid, moving it so the pumpkin seeds swirl and clink against the glass. Tink. Tink. Tink. I’m still there, swirling, a moment later, watching the parts that had settled away from the oil slowly come back into form. Just a drizzle, a quick wet shower, a light landing on sweet potato, endive, radicchio, and avocado. Salt in the palm of my hand, my fingertips oiled as they push away the sunflower seeds to fall below.

It’s time for lunch.

* * *

I can barely hear the keyboard click as I type these words. If I close my left ear, and type with my right hand, there is nothing but an isolating silence, accompanied by a high tiny ringing. The ear infection that blazed through me last week left my eardrum ruptured. I can’t hear out of my right ear, mostly. The only sounds I can hear are tinny high notes, occasionally. My daughter’s high-pitched giggling bores into my ear as squealing, 12 seconds after I hear it with my left ear. I’ve never wished for her to stop giggling before.

Music is too painful right now.

My doctor says it will come back in a few months. We hope. I must admit, I’m feeling pretty isolated by this. When I walk through a crowd of people, all I can feel is how quickly I want to leave. Sounds come ringing in from all directions and I have no idea how to pinpoint them. I cannot hear whispered conversations as I pass people. I can’t tell if the siren approaching our car is from behind me or straight toward. Being with more than 3 people at a time makes me feel anxious.

I find that I love reading a book more than ever now. I can settle down with one person’s story, one voice moving me from page to page, and feel fully there. No one needs me to hear to understand the subtle nuances of a George Saunders story. I can be inside a life without having to lean in and ask, “I’m sorry, but what did you say? And am I talking too loudly?”

When I sleep on my left side, I can’t hear a thing. The entire world shuts down.

This will pass. And there are, of course, worse fates than this. I’m trying to remind myself of that.

But right now, when I can’t hear very well, I’m feeling very quiet. And I treasure the sounds I do hear — the thwack of a knife, the drizzle of viniagrette, the squeak of radicchio as I bend it on itself — more than ever.

Lunch tastes better when I have listened to it.

* * *

This sweet potato salad was originally intended for ONE’s sweet potato day, a couple of weeks ago. The ear infections running through our house meant I couldn’t participate with the other bloggers at the time. However, as Irivin wrote: …“you can still sign the petition at ONE telling the world leaders that they need to continue to help reduce the 25 million kids who suffer from chronic malnutrition. Nearly 2 million of those kids die from lack of nutrition, and that’s why the sweet potato was picked for a group of food bloggers as a key ingredient for them to create dishes. The sweet potato is considered a superfood, packed with crazy amounts of nutrition like beta-carotene (more than carrots), vitamin A and C, folate, iron, copper, calcium and fiber. On top of that, it grows in a multitude of places, with hundreds of different varieties.”

If you think about how much someone might hunger for a sweet potato, it helps put your own suffering into perspective. Including mine.

Here’s a list of the other bloggers who participated in Sweet Potato Day and what they made:

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burritos from This Week for Dinner
Truffle Sweet Potato Frites from Savory Sweet Life
Sweet Potato & Chicken Sausage Stew from Chefdruck
Honey Sweet Potato Biscuits from Food for My Family
Sweet Potato Burgers from Cutie Booty Cakes
What’s Gaby Cooking and Sweet Potato Day
The MIssion List and Sweet Potato Day
World Moms Blog and Sweet Potato Day
Go Graham Go and Sweet Potato Day
Cranberry Sweet Potato Crumb Cake from Barbara Bakes
Bourbon and Marshmallow Sweet Potatoes from Boston Mamas
Documama and Sweet Potato Day
Sweet Potato Bread Pudding from Eat the Love
Lamb Shanks with Sweet Potatoes and Sausage from Kitchen Gadget Girl
Sweet Potato Love To Help End World Hunger from Love That Max
Celebrating Sweet Potato Day with Mom Trends
Sweet Potato Chili from Righteous Bacon
Cooking Sweet Potatoes for Picky Eaters from Rookie Moms
Sweet Potatoes and Global Health from Third Eye Mom
Indian Spiced Sweet Potato Kielbasa ONE Skillet Bake from Tickled Red
Sweet, Dude, Sweet Potato Breakfast Hash from Helen Jane
Oh My Sweet Potato Apple Bake from Bowl Licker
Sweet Potato and Peanut Gratin from Non-Reactive Pan
Sweet Potato Fries from When You Wake Up a Mother (also found on Million Moms Challenge

PUMPKIN SEED VINAIGRETTE

1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons sliced shallots
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pumpkin seed oil
salt and pepper

Put the pumpkin seeds, shallots, mustard, coriander, and champagne vinegar in the bowl of a food processor. Whirl them up until the pumpkin seeds start to break down. You’ll still have some chunks of pumpkin seed intact.

With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil until it is fully incorporated into the vinaigrette. Repeat with the pumpkin seed oil. Turn off the food processor and taste the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 1/2 pint of vinaigrette.

To make this salad, roast a sweet potato in a 425° oven until it is soft to the touch but still a bit firm, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let it cool a bit. Slice up endive, radicchio, and avocado (not pictured here). Toss those on top of the sweet potato. Drizzle with some of the vinaigrette.

This makes enough vinaigrette to last all week long, drizzled over roasted chicken, on other salads, or on top of rice. I like it with quinoa and roasted tofu. Play.