Tomorrow morning 9 am, I will be headed to the dentist's for the big day. I would be starting a series of treatments that would last me all of 2017. I have died a little bit many times the past few months, (p)reliving the anticipated pain even before anything happened.
By the time I got home this evening, I was starving. I was so hungry that I could eat a bus, which is surprising because I am a ravenous breakfast eater but I never feel that hungry for dinner. It could be because I was not supposed to eat or drink after midnight, and by the time the procedure was over, my life would have changed. Or it could be because Thursdays are teaching days and I was just back from teaching and talking continuously for 3 hours, it was 9:30 pm, and my energy levels had depleted alarmingly. Or it could be because starting tomorrow, I would be on a liquid, pureed diet for 3 weeks, eating food with baby-food consistency. Or it could be just because I knew this would be my last pain-free meal for a while.
I was on the phone with my most faithful friend who calls me everyday to ask me how my day was. Even before I could talk about teaching class, my stomach was growling. I had to hang up. I never get this hungry at this hour. Maybe my body was preparing for a stress situation by storing up energy. The brain is pretty smart that way.
What would I eat at this hour? I had not cooked dinner, and as I inspected the fridge, I knew exactly what I was craving. It surprised me even more, way more than this unexpected hunger, because this is the comfort food I never crave. In my ten-plus years of staying away and cooking on my own, I have never once made this. I can imagine craving biryani and kosha mangsho and Chipotle, those are clearly my favorites. But this?
Well, I was not going to fight my cravings at least today. Pregnant women talk about sudden cravings, and I never understood it until today. The analytical me started to wonder what signals my brain was producing as I got a potato and an egg and put it to boil. I boiled some rice too, and as I did, I chopped green chilies and onions. I neither crave rice nor potatoes (I mostly crave meat and sweets), but my body must have been prepping for a fight-or-flight mode and was craving the carbs to store up energy. These were my thoughts as I prepared my dinner of over boiled potato, egg and rice made into a mushy, semi-solid consistency with ghee. I added the chilies and the onions and mixed the mush with some pickle oil. The smell was driving me nuts. I kept wondering how could a person who did not crave any of these ingredients (potato, egg, rice, ghee, chilies, onions, pickle) crave this meal. And suddenly, I had my answer. It wasn't about carbs or hormones or fight-and-flight responses or glycogen storage in the liver or anything. In anticipation of the stressful situation, I was just craving comfort food that I have old and fond associations with. Food is a lot about memories- childhood memories, nostalgic memories, romantic memories, school memories, like the smell of an egg roll always reminding me of penurious college days or the smell of macher kalia (fish curry) reminding me of wedding invitations. Even if this was not my most favorite food in the world, I was craving the comfort of family. This is what we ate when Ma was sick and unable to cook. This is what we ate when we came home from somewhere and Ma did not have the energy to cook (we rarely ate outside without occasion, Ma would simply throw in all these along with some boiled lentils). I was just craving the comfort of childhood memories, Ma's reassurance, and old and familiar smells.
The first spoonful of that piping hot dinner sent me straight to heaven. Tonight, I would not even have looked at fish fry or mutton biryani. There is nothing that could have made me as happy as this meal did.
Wakefulness eludes me as I write this, and I can already feel my eyelids drooping. It is funny that even an hour ago, I was so anxious that I did not think I will be able to sleep all night. And now, I will soon find it hard to walk back to the bed if I do not leave this recliner. Tomorrow, we shall see tomorrow. Right now, the class has been taught (I am good until next Thursday), the tummy full, the cravings satisfied, and I am just grateful for good health, good appetite, and fantastic food memories. And of course all that ghee-drizzled, mushy dinner. Toothache, we will deal with tomorrow.