a pile of sambusa ready for the frying pan

The day my housemate and I delivered mandazi to many of our beloved neighbors, we were sitting in Jackie’s kitchen.  “I need to learn how to make these,” Jackie said.

And so, our idea for my housemate’s cooking classes began.  She is a trained chef from Central Africa and cooks amazing and beautiful meals.  She is so powerful in the kitchen.  While she is there, working and singing I want to sit at her feet and listen to her lilting voice,  listen to the chop chop chop of her knife.  She transports me back to a time and place I never knew I missed, but now I long for like a child separated from home.

Making the

On Saturday night we piled into the house–6 beautiful women.  She gave us each a chef’s knife, a cutting board and instructed us in proper technique.  We giggled and gossiped and the kitchen started to smell of ginger and curry and garlic.  The spices were as thick as the laughter.

Sambusas are fried meat dumplings and are, when made completely from scratch,complicated affairs.  There is the meat which must be cooked and seasoned and then the envelopes that must be made–flour and water mixed to the right consistency, kneaded until stretchy and soft, rolled out to the perfect thickness, cooked but not too much, trimmed, cut, folded and stuffed before they are dropped in oil and fried.

Making sambusa is a kind of meditation.   And an expression of love.  To stand in the kitchen and go through so many difficult steps to arrive at the perfect meat dumpling is something you would only do for love.  For love of the diners perhaps, or love of cooking itself. But it is not a task one takes on lightly.

My mother-in-law lives in rural Oaxaca and cooks this way.  Each tiny step executed patiently in its own time.  There is no rush to get the food on the table.  The grinding of the chilis, the crushing of the tomatos, so much better done by hand.  “That is how the love gets in,” she would say.  “Love is the most important ingredient.”  It seems like in our rush rush rush convenience society it is a critical nutrient that too often gets left out of our diets.  No wonder we are so malnourished these days.

As we sat down to dinner at 10 pm, a luxury for all of us with small children, the love seemed to seep out of the food.   Each bite was glorious.  I sat back from the table full and yes, completely nourished.


I am sore today.  My lower back, my hips, my abdomen.  They are all tight.  Not from yoga, but from this.  This hoola hoop.  This wonderful and magical hoola hoop.

Yesterday afternoon felt like early spring.  Jackie and I took the boys to get haircuts and then ended up at her house with another friend.  It was a beautiful day and there was only one thing to do–hang out on the porch, and watch the neighbors float by.  As we watched the kids play, and talked, I picked up one of Jackie’s daughter’s hoola hoops.  “I remember these,” I thought.  “Its just like riding a bike.  I bet I can still do it.”…Yeah…right.

An hour later I was still at it–trying to keep that hoop up that is.  Eric and our friend’s husband came out and took all the kids to the park, but we were too deeply engaged in play to go with them.  We were giggling and cheering each other on, fully absorbed in the games of our youth.

There is no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon with your middle aged girl friends than hoola hoopin’ and jump roping.  

 When it was finally time for us to leave, Max and I headed right for our neighborhood hardware and garden store to pick up–hoola hoops.  Several of them.  One for me, for one Max, one for our housemate…and yes a guest hoop because you never can have too many and you never know when someone is going to stop by to play.

After dinner last night, my housemate and I stayed up giggling trying to keep it going.  You would think with all the dancing we do we would have no problem but no such luck.  I think the best I did was 8 or maybe 10 rounds before the hoop would start to drop.  Tonight after watching us struggle for too long Max finally got up with authority to school us on proper hoola hoop technique.

Its going to be a marvelous spring, my friends. 

Please come over and play. 

Just a few of the people who make us feel like family…

My divorce hearing was over a week ago now.  It feels like a lifetime ago already.  Shaky-legged I walked through a door in my life and it closed.  And I am content with the new place I am.  I am more than content.

At the time Juan and I separated, one of the most bitter emotions I felt was the loss of a sense of “family”.  I had grown up in a happy, if normally dysfunctional, nuclear family.  Two parents, two kids, two cats, two cars in the garage.  That was family to me.

Living far away from both sets of our parents Juan and I had been family to each other.  Max completed our picture.  When they placed him in our arms and we looked at the perfect picture–a mom, a dad, a child, we felt whole.

With Juan gone, that first year, it felt like we were never quite enough, as though something was missing.  It was just the me and the baby at dinner, me and the little one at bedtime.  I felt a little like an amputee.  There was a tingling sensation there, reminding us that part of us had been cut off, that something was missing.  But over time I healed.  It happened so slowly I barely noticed it was happening.

Like a crab who loses a claw and regrows a stronger one, we have redefined family.  Now our “family” includes people of all different ages and races, people who let themselves into our homes as we let ourselves into theirs.  We dealt with the loneliness in our home by opening it wide open, by claiming others, blurring boundaries.

Almost every week we are eating dinner communally with some part of our urban family.  There is always bread in the center of the table, wine being poured, hugs hello and goodbye.  

When all the kids got lice last week, we used it as an excuse to order in Thai food.  Later we sat like monkeys grooming our young, in it together–community.  A broken washing machine in one house is not a cause for despair (or maybe only a little despair).  It is an excuse to do a laundry party at another house and to sit and play guitar while the clothes tumble.

Late in the evening last night, my dear “brother” brought me to a party of his good friends and did what I needed someone to do, something that I had dreaded for years.  He made me get out there.  Yup…He took by the hand and with a sense of humor that only he could get away with–he introduced me as an adorable single woman, looking to meet someone interesting.  Did they know anyone?  Yes it was baptism by fire, but I needed the little kick in the pants to get myself into a new frame of mind. 

Sometimes family is a place to retreat, and sometimes family is what propels you out into the world.  But family is the place where you go when you need to be reminded of your best self, when you need to fill up your heart, when you need to recharge.

At dinner last night, I told the newest member of my family that if and when I do meet someone and fall in the love they will need to fit into this crazy, messy, huge and spontaneous family.   We giggled thinking about how this poor guy would rap his head around it, me and all my beautiful baggage.

For its not just “Love me, love my child.”

Its more like “Love me, love my child, love my dear soul sisters and their kind husbands, my guitar teacher, my guitar teacher’s wife, my across the street neighbors, my mentor and his wife, my comrades at work, my housemate…and all their children…Love me, love all my dear ones.  Love me…love my family, my big huge messy urban–we ain’t related but we’re family family…”

Good luck guy…who ever you are.