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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

comfort food

I’m not sure why this anniversary of September 11th feels more poignant to me than the last 10. Maybe it’s because my daughters are more “children” and less babies. Maybe it’s the stories I’ve noticed everyone sharing on Facebook. Maybe it’s because there is enough distance between then and now that we feel okay about saying “I remember what I was doing when the second tower fell.” Those of us who didn’t experience the horror of losing a friend or loved one can still admit the terrible heartbreak that we endured on that day. Maybe it’s because we as a nation have finally started to heal.

I was in Gainesville, enjoying a leisurely fifth fall at the University of Florida. I was living with two girls: Lauren and Krysten whom I’d met towards the end of my senior year. We didn’t have the same circle of friends, but they were great roommates who’d become good friends. I don’t remember the details of the day after American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon , but I remember the emotions: first confusion, panic and terror followed by deep sorrow and anxiety about the future. The agony of watching people on TV searching for their loved ones and news of the fate of the first responders were unbearable. I had this crazy feeling like, maybe if I kept watching television something would change. It would all be this big mistake.

At the end of the day the three of us sat on our scratchy apartment issued-furniture watching the news and eating jambalaya that Lauren had made from scratch. We could have gotten pizza or eaten cereal or done something on our own, but Lauren insisted on making a home-cooked meal. At the time (and some might argue still today) I wasn’t much of a cook, and I remember being in awe of Lauren’s considerable skills. I’m sure I never properly thanked her, but Lauren’s jambalaya taught me a lesson I’ll never forget: the simple power of a home-cooked meal.

When I look back on the last eleven years, I realize that some of my most treasured gifts were those of food. Strange but true. My kids have outgrown so many of their precious baby gifts, but I still dream about the chocolate chip banana muffins that my best friend made us the weekend after my first daughter was born. And the meals that my mommy & me pals made us after my second daughter arrived were simply too good to be true. My family was tight-knit, church-going and traditional, but we were not a foodie family. We liked to eat food- but we were not connoisseurs of Sunday supper the way I suspect Lauren’s family was. She’s from Louisiana, so I think that gives her an edge.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to re-create Lauren’s jambalaya, but her recipe is listed below if you’d like to try. Instead I’ve tried to pay her kindness forward by making food for people when they’re going through a hardship or welcoming a new baby. It’s not fancy, but I hope people understand the sentiment attached. Sometimes families (including families that are made up of friends) just need a home-cooked meal more than they need a night out at a restaurant. For me it's something that's made a tangible difference in my life- a true comfort food. 

Thank you, Lauren!

I hope- that whatever your September 11th 2001 experience was- that you are spending this
September 11th in peace.

God Bless America.

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