Friday, May 18, 2012

Food Inspiration: the last sack of potatoes

Image by Ideadad
Being a starving writer isn’t so fun anymore when the cupboards actually do go bare. The last ten days – the proverbial end of the month – have driven our little family to commit a long string of culinary no-no’s. Cooking up expired lentils, long-frozen hamburgers, sprouting green potatoes. Salvaging rusty cans of pineapple, half-eaten apples, the butt-ends of cucumbers. Eating nacho chips for breakfast, scrambled eggs for dinner, Easter eggs for dessert.

Ironically, it’s time like these that I am most likely to be extravagant with giving away food. Last week I used up the last of our cheese, white flour and salami – not to mention our only vegetables – for a pizza dinner with our friends. Then I used up the last of our whole-wheat flour, raisins and cinnamon making three loaves of sweet bread – and divided two of them up among family and friends. And my acupuncturist.

I don’t blame generosity for these nonsensical splurges but rather a book I read when I was about twelve. It’s too long ago now for me to remember the title or author, but it was a memoir about a Jewish girl growing up in wartime Poland. Her mother’s food supplies run lower and lower until all they have left is a small sack of potatoes which they’ll need to survive on for at least another week. After that, they don’t know where they’ll get their next meal. The little girl’s eighth or ninth birthday comes up and she desperately wants to invite her school friends over to celebrate. Of course, they have no food to offer the guests so a party seems out of the question and the perceptive girl doesn’t insist. However, her mother feels there is something deeply unjust about a little girl not being able to do something as simple and joyful as a birthday party. So she has her daughter invite everyone around and – what the hell – takes the entire sack of potatoes and makes a big yummy potato soup for all the children to noisily lap up. Even if it means their family might starve to death afterwards.

If that’s not an instinct to fight back, I don’t know what is. I still get chills just thinking about it. In the same spirit, I give away our last pizzas and our last bread, but I have the security that the supermarket is just a cash loan away. However, I’d like to think that I too could one day be capable of doing just what they did: one big joyous potato bash in the face of death.

But the happy ending is that they didn’t die of hunger after all and the little girl grew up and published a book about her trying early life and about how brave and inspiring her mother was. And isn’t it not just food but inspiration, in the end, that truly fills us up?