To overstate the obvious, I’ve been AWOL for a while. December’s Christmas party mayhem, as usual, ate my life. At the start of the month, out of sheer curiosity, I began keeping a tally of how many people we’d helped to celebrate company parties, but ultimately abandoned the effort when I realized it was making me feel even more overwhelmed than I already was.

When the New Year arrived, which felt like approximately a week-and-a-half after the old one had bombed in on us, it found me feeling as though I’d given blood and they took it all. As usual. It should have come as no surprise when I got rollicking, roiling, wildly sick. The daughter in L. A. came down with the same gastroenteritis at the very same time – who knew that the telephone was such an effective transmitter of disease? – so I at least had someone with whom to commiserate.  When either of us was able to talk.

In a conversation with my sister (a brilliantly kind family doc) recently, she said I’d probably had Norovirus, given the fact that it’s hung on for so long. Some of the urgent symptoms have relented, but others have not. At three weeks in, I’m still sneaking up on the idea of solid food. The daughter said it best:

“I can’t imagine that I’ll actually sit down to a meal ever again.”


I’ll admit that it’s always a surprise when I get sick. I’m fortunate to enjoy good health and fairly decent fitness most every day. Being interrupted by sickness feels like an insult. How could this happen to me?

And I didn’t do myself any favors. I stayed home sick for exactly one day because on that day, I had no choice whatsoever in the matter. The next day dawned with a false sense of suddenly feeling better, so I went to work. For 11 hours. The day after that, mercifully a day off, I was right back where I’d started. Still, come Monday, which was supposed to have been a day off, I hauled my sorry self to work and stayed there. Each day, I’d make several dashes to the bathroom.

I was the most compulsive hand-washer you’ve ever seen.

When I got home, I’d have to go to bed for a couple of hours before I could even contemplate getting up to feed the animals, refill my water glass, then go back to bed and sleep for 12 hours before doing it all over again.

You’ve heard that the human body can go X number of days without food, but cannot survive without water? Every word is true. For three weeks, I survived on water. Cold water, warm water, hot water with ginger and honey and lemon. Water. Anything else – ginger ale, broth soup, tea, coffee (oh God, especially coffee) – was instantly rejected. Often violently.  I lost 15 pounds, but water saved me. I’ll never take it for granted again.


The moral of the story is that it is time for limits. Time to set some, time to stretch others.

In the end, absence from cooking and writing and even normal living gave me a much-needed perspective. Some facts became clear.

The job needs to stop eating my life. I believe that if the month of December hadn’t so utterly depleted me, I might not have been as sick as I was for as long as I was in January. It’s both a blessing and a curse that I am the only one in the kitchen who does what I do. I’ve been the squeaky wheel asking for help and support for too long; if none is forthcoming in anything other than in intermittent ways, there are things that won’t be getting done. I have no more thanklessly long days, nights, weeks, or months in me.

The blog needs to refocus. Or focus. It has been wandering without one for several months because, beyond the confines of work, I have been without one myself. I’ve put all my creative force into something which has drained me dry and kept asking for more. Well, as a friend is fond of saying,

“Fuck that shit.”

I’ve recently reset my hours at work to go in earlier in the morning and leave earlier in the afternoon. That gives me guaranteed daylight time, regardless of the time of year, to have a long walk with the dogs. It’s a tossup as to which of us needs it more. I’m an early riser, and with set dog- and me-walking time later in the day, I can take that first cup of coffee back to bed and write when the day is brand new and my thinking is clearest. And by the time I get to the kitchen, it’s with the people I both most and least like being there with. It all works out in the end.

And where to go with that? I’ve grown dissatisfied with the scattergun approach to blog posts. Here a salad, there a soup, everywhere a something-or-other. It may sound contradictory, but it’s difficult for me to think creatively without a structure. A direction, if you will.


As I was lying in bed one afternoon, beginning to think about actually eating food, the vision of a boiled potato came to me. Tenderly split open, steaming, with just a sprinkle of salt. I knew I couldn’t eat it yet, but the mere fact that I could imagine it gave me a quiet sigh of optimism. A corner had been turned.

A couple of days later, again back in bed before animal-feeding time, I realized that the potato looked lonely. Carrots. I always have them on hand for the bunny. She’s a genial soul, and I’m sure would share if asked. To boil together some yellow potatoes and bright chunks of carrot surely would taste as lovely as it looked. Any why turn my back on my old friend ginger just because I was feeling a bit steadier on my feet? Add a couple of slices to the pot, and the resulting stock would likely make a restorative tisane.

Suddenly I fell further back into the pillows. My jaw dropped open. I realized that I was daydreaming not just of a meal, but rather thinking down a road. It had a name: ROOT VEGETABLES. Now, that may not ring your bells as it did mine, but suddenly I had my direction. My structure.

Categories. I would restructure the blog under broad categories, each post being a small slice thereof. Full of information and recipes, hopefully new and useful to all of us. And most of all, interesting. To all of us.

From illness into health, chaos to – or at least moving in the direction of – order.


Will all these optimistic and early – very early, given that it’s all of mid-February – harbingers of good times to come have yet another blanket or two of snow to look forward to? Probably. But they’ll be there. Waiting. Ready to begin growing again. With all of us.

About thesolitarycook

I'm a chef, a cook, a teacher, a reader, a writer, a bike-rider, a dog- and cat-woman
This entry was posted in STORIES. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Cynthia, I am so sorry you have been sick. But I am glad you are recovering and are able to think about eating again. I am also glad that you will be blogging again, re focusing is a good thing. Take care of yourself and really look forward to the next post.

  2. I wondered what had happened but I have been so depressed and grief stricken over the loss of my Izzy and caring for Nando I’m afraid I haven’t been as diligent as I should have been in checking in with you. So glad you are feeling better.

    • I’m still reeling over Izzy’s death, too. Ill as she was, it was just such a shock, and I don’t doubt that it lingers with you, as well. Is Nando your constant companion now? Surely spring will come and find all us all in brighter spirits. How have the recent storms been for you?

  3. I can’t or am having a hard time dealing with it. Nando is frail and misses Izzy terribly. He cries all the time and it breaks my heart. He is with me constantly and is such a little fighter. Yes hopefully Spring will come soon but right now we are battling Arctic cold, below zero temps here in the city and it’s very hard on the animals.

  4. This seems to be the season for letting go, new beginnings. So sorry Suzanne about Izzy’s passing. Our dear sweet animals fill your hearts so. Cynthia, your ghastly virus was simply terrible. So awful to be so sick. New beginnings, quiet resolve, life structuring are all excellent outcomes though just as spring is somewhere hovering over the horizon for you all. I am also in transition – my sister lies dying in ICU isolation in Sydney (superbug’s got her now) and is slipping away from us. I am leaving the family home and down-sizing to a much smaller place in a great location near a lake and lovely walks. I retired. This is the second last week of summer here but it feels like autumn already.

    • I’m crushed to hear about Paula. Crushed. Things sounded hopeful for a while. But things tend to slip beyond our control, as each of us learns at one point or another. Your new location looks utterly beautiful. A new place for the three of you to settle into a whole new happiness. Holding you in my heart.

  5. Barbara says:

    Cynthia, I’m so glad you’re on the mend. And Suzanne, my condolences for the loss of your beloved Izzy. I don’t know you, thehummingcook, but I’m so sad for you as well. Let’s hope for good things in the spring/fall.

    • You know, Dr. B., sometimes you reach a point where things just have to start getting better, or perhaps we simply have to grit out teeth and change our perception. Life will always comprise its losses, but hopefully spring is around the corner for us all.

  6. Bevi says:

    It’s wonderful to see your post, Cynthia, and to realize that it’s a meeting place for some of the finest people I have come to know over our common love of cooking.

  7. Glad you are starting to feel better Cynthia….. and your friend is right “f*** that shit” we definitely need to reassess and make time for ourselves…. there is more to life.

  8. lapadia says:

    Yikes, Cynthia, and, everybody in this comment stream, I’m sending good vibrations your way, and seriously hoping, under the varied circumstances you ALL will feel better, soon!

    You know, at times there is nothing better than words to ponder; I like the quote below and hope you will too.

    “I learned there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead, others come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready, you see. Now my troubles are going to have trouble with me.” ~Dr. Seuss


  9. Diana B says:

    I had no idea such a wretched illness was what was keeping you from the blog and I’m very sorry to hear how hard it hit you. At least something good came out of it, namely your rejiggering of your time and commitments – it does sometimes take a 2×4 upside the head, doesn’t it? So, on toward spring and, dare I suggest for one of your topics, celeriac? 😉

    • You’ve been reading my mind, Diana. Celeriac is indeed forthcoming. It and fresh horseradish are just too deliciously scary to let fall behind. It does indeed take drastic measures sometimes, especially with me, to lend a more constructive outlook on things. Life goes on and here we all are, happily, in the end. Thank you dearly for your kindness. Cheers to spring for us all!

  10. Heidi says:

    I am sorry to hear that you were so sick! After reading the post, it appears that however awful the illness was, the refocusing of life might be worth the pain.

    I endlessly struggle with trying to keep my life in boundaries and usually I make radical adjustments, only to let it slide again. Aside of modifications to the blog for structure, you should continue to let us know about your progress in keeping work in check. From the posts above, your friends appear to have similar issues and we can use the inspiration!

    • It seems that many of us are caught in a similar dilemma. Over the years, and in and out of a few careers, I’ve slid more times than there are numbers to count. The common denominator is me. And remember when the daughter and i threatened to come visit you for Christmas a couple of years ago? Right. I’ll be happy to post updated of steps both forward and back, and maybe we can all tango together. And I still so want to come visit you again, Heidi.

  11. ldpw says:

    i’m not saying it’s a good thing you got so fucking sick, but all these great conclusions you’ve gotten to come to are inspiring to me and to yourself as well, i’m sure. congratulations. you deserve this. i’m excited. go you.

  12. chef mimi says:

    ugh. that sounds awful. HOpefully you get to eat that potato soon…

  13. ldpw says:

    it’s a phrase i’m starting to live by. appropriately, of course.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s