Raspberry Sangria Pasta.
The art of living well and the art of dying well are one. Epicurus
At seven years old, I awoke to find my bed on soft earth below the house on stilts where I lived with my father. It was the best sleep I’ve ever had. Slightly dazed, I had looked to see a large hole on the floor of my bedroom.
My father had left the wooden floorboards to rot.
In my sweet stupor, I thought only of accessing that feeling again, to be caressed by night’s air while my body lay sunken in the finest sheets.
On a beautiful spring day, the breeze at a perfect tempo, rousing petals. I adorned my now-adult body in pink silk and headed out to admire the cherry blossoms.
My work as a death doula has become challenging. Death is an inescapable part of life as we know it. However, I never imagined that I would live through a global pandemic.
I exited my building and unceremoniously collided with human flesh.
I fell back against the door, my hands reaching out but only grasping air.
I slid down the bleach-smelling glass, my butt making contact with the concrete. Hands reached out to help me up.
“I’m so sorry,” a lilting voice proclaimed.
I accepted his arms, and then firmly on my feet, I stared into the eyes of the architect of my throbbing butt.
“It was my fault,” I said, catching a glimpse of his brown eyes at the very moment a gust of wind blew a fistful of cherry blossoms in our direction.
They all seemed to land on the brim of his hat except one which floated down to land on his mask-covered nose.
I instinctively reached up to brush it away when I realized we were still holding hands.
I did not let go.
Neither did he.
“You're the first person I've touched in months,” he said breathlessly.
“And you, I.”
My response just as breathless against my fifty percent organic cotton, forty percent linen, ten percent silk mask.
“I don't want to let go,” said the masked stranger.
Neither did I. I had been guiding so many families through death. I had virtually been at bedsides as men, women, and children lay dying, and I had done it all alone and without touch for essentially a year. I had forgotten this aspect of being human.
“Memento Mori” I exhaled.
And he returned those words to me.
“We’ve been standing here much closer than six feet, inhaling each other's words; your glorious scent is tangled in my nostrils. If we were to get covid from each other, it is done. So dinner at my place?”
“My doorman is a former assassin. I'll be in good hands if you try anything. How about we head to the rooftop of my building?”
“Ok,” he said, caressing my hands with his thumbs.
“I’m Destiny,” he said.
“Charmed, I'm sure, quite sure,” he responded sonorously.
We walked into my building, hands intertwined.
“Hi Larry,” I said to my doorman, “I just met this person, and I'm taking him to the roof. Please keep an eye on the security cameras.”
He laughed, then gave me a quizzical look “Wait, you're serious?”
“As serious as a positive covid anal swab test. Look out for your girl,” I said, heading for the stairwell
As we climbed the stairs, I had an idea, “Hey, do you want to help me with something in my apartment before we head to the roof?”
“Sure, it can't be any crazier than holding hands with a stranger amid a global pandemic, can it?”
“When I was a child, my bed fell out of my bedroom and onto the earth beneath; I lived in a wooden house on concrete stilts, since we may be infecting each other with the virus as we speak. I want to recreate that by bringing my bed onto the roof. In case I die soon, I want one night to sleep under the status and feign innocence even as the world dances in chaos. You're welcome to stay and experience with me.”
“Let's do it,” Destiny said, “The city is pushing outdoor dining. We’re taking it to the next level with outdoor sleeping.”
We headed to my apartment. After a few attempts, we decided that my bespoke king-size bed was too heavy to move.
Fortunately, I had a double sleeping bag and pad in my closet. I grabbed them, and we headed up one more flight of stairs to the rooftop.
“Amazing view,” Destiny said, “Almost as good as mine!” He gave me his address, and I acquiesced that his building’s view must be impeccable.
Our conversation ebbed and flowed with ease, and soon my belly grumbled that it was past dinner time.
“I'm pretty hungry,” I said, “There's a stove and grill up here so I can throw something together really quickly.”
“I love that we skipped over the ‘what do you do’ question, but I have to tell you I'm a chef.” He handed me his business card. “I can cook for us.”
“Well, I'm a death doula,” I said, “And I’ve been ordering out quite a lot, so tonight I will be a chef, and you sir can be a death doula and talk me through my impending death. I feel as though you must have corona, or you're a serial killer.”
“I can confidently say I am not a serial killer, and I just had a test done. I'm corona free.”
“But was it the anal swab test?” I asked. “For all the false positives and negatives many have received, researchers in China has found the anal swabs to be most accurate.”
“Unfortunately, we don't have that particular test stateside, but all this talk of anal swabs is making me hungry chef, what are we having for dinner pork butt?”
I laughed; “Well, aren't you cheeky!”
I pulled out my phone and, in very non-Meghan Markle fashion, googled the name on the business card he gave me.
An eponymous website was the first result. I clicked on it, his smiling face appeared, his arms were crossed over his chest, and he was wearing a traditional chef's hat. I tapped the bio section.
Destiny Pinnock was a stand-out student at The Culinary Arts Academy of Switzerland. After earning his degree, he opened Esoteric in Brooklyn, NY, and two years later earned the distinction of operating the first Michellin stared Caribbean restaurant.
“Yikes” I said, “Maybe you should cook after all.”
I’m not a chef, Destiny said with a smirk. I'm a Death Doula, a hungry one at that.
Well, Death does have that effect, I returned his smirk. Let's grab some ingredients.
I plodded down the stairs a lot less confident than when I initially volunteered to cook. I've always been drawn to the macabre, the mercurial. I guess I'm a bit of a masochist; I must be why else was I still planning to cook for a Michelin starred chef!
I rifled through my tiny pantry, go easy, Azami, make something simple, I internally told myself. My therapist has cautioned me against always trying to prove myself to others, but I threw caution to the wind; I had a date with Destiny, dammit!
My eyes alighted upon the bottle of merlot I had poured into the decanter earlier in the day. A few bags of frozen peas surrounded the decanter to perfect the merlot temperature. I poured myself a glass and told Destiny to help himself as I continued to search through my kitchen.
I brought the Bordeaux glass to my nose and inhaled the scent of a cornucopia of fruit. I moved the cool glass to my lips, and notes of black cherry, cocoa, and a hint of clove swirled on my tongue.
This was my inheritance, this wine, my dad died two and a half years ago, and all I found in the crumbling house was five bottles of merlot. His creditors took the land and the house; my childhood home was demolished. The hole I fell through was never fixed.
My father was always a disappointment, a well of untapped potential. This wine, however, was the opposite. It embodies all that a red wine should be.
I suddenly felt a very epicurean. This wine was the good stuff, but I was going to cook with it; in a way, this wine was akin to my father's skull or his ashes. It was all he had left, being that he died at sea and his body was never found, it was likely rapidly decaying in the ocean. This wine was my own Memento Mori but as death might be close i would use it all tonight.
I grabbed my ingredients, Destiny grabbed the cooking utensils and plates and we headed back to the roof.
I placed a pot on the stove and added water and an entire bottle of wine, setting it to boil.
“Sheesh” said Destiny “I’ll be sure to hide my wine when you come over”
“Well as a chef I’ll do almost anything for flavor” I retorted.
“Well as a death doula, I must say I think you've chose an intriguing, proverbial last super”
I placed the pasta in the boiling wine-water, Destiny stayed closed and I reveled in sharing space with a warm body, I reveled in his words.
In a skillet I heated 2 tablespoons of butter, 4 chopped garlic cloves and a handful of raspberries were tossed in the butter, I added 1/4 cup of the wine and let simmer.
Destiny was a fantastic sous chef, adding not only an engaging conversation but also helping me keep track of the utensils I kept nervously dropping.
I heated my cast iron skillet and coated it in avocado oil and a tablespoon of butter, I added the scallops one by one and then seared them until they were browned on both sides.
I added the pasta to the raspberry-garlic-wine skillet and and tossed with parsley and 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I finished with a few grinds of black pepper atop the pasta.
It smelled divine.
I plated the food with six scallops on each plate, I did say I was feeling epicurean.
We brought our plates to the table and I added one last touch a sprinkling of pickled cherry blossoms on the scallops.
Destiny twirled the pasta around his forked and tasted with twinkling eyes.
“This is so good!” he said not bitter at all. “The pasta perfectly absorbed the flavours and the raspberry cancelled out any possible bitterness from the tannins. Well done chef!”
As the sun started to set and we abandoned the table in favor of a couch that allowed us to better view it's descent over the city.
“You know I was kind of sick” he said “Not with Corona but with touch starvation.”
“I've been a starving chef until now,” he pulled me even closer and I ran my finger along his jawline.
My senses bloomed and the gently perfumed night air made me feel buoyant.
“Same here” I responded softly. To touch with intention is to be human, I was grateful for this connection.
“Well you’ll never starve again” he said running his fingers up my bare arms, “Stick with me, and you'll never go hungry again!” He said dramatically.
I laughed, “Most underrated Disney song ever!”
“Thank you for tonight he said “If I die tomorrow I die happy.”
“Eat, drink, be merry and maybe sleep” I said “For tomorrow we may very well die.”