At the launch party for the publication of my first book, "A Cook's Tour of Sonoma" (Addison-Wesley, 1990), chef John Ash offered a piece of advice.
"Every human should spend one day a month not getting out of bed," he told me sweetly, suggesting that my life was about to get really busy. For years, I took his advice to heart, not necessarily monthly but now and then. And I clung to his words as a hedge against the guilt I would have otherwise felt about not doing anything productive for a full turn of the planet.
Years passed and one day I mentioned this to John, thanking him for the suggestion and telling him how many times I had relied upon it.
He looked at me like I was a Martian.
"What?" he said.
He had no memory of either saying it or intentionally doing it himself. I guess it doesn't matter. His words, dreamed, imagined or real, launched a restorative tradition that I treasure and have passed on to others.
My grandson Lucas, who is now 12, understands this. When he's had a difficult time, I've often tucked him into my bed and presented him with breakfast on a pretty tray, complete with a fragrant flower, sweet milk tea, bacon, a simple omelette, toast and whatever fruit happens to be in season. He is always the better for it and a few times has even suggested it was time to do it again. He's got a lot of wisdom in his young bones.
I think of this now, as trees shed their leaves and we all seem to be shedding too many tears for too many tragedies. Sometimes we need to simply stop, take a break, a time out, not because we are sick, depressed or injured, but for the simple pleasure of shrinking the world, briefly, to the small circumference of a comfy bed, a good book and a few favorite comforting foods and drinks.
Sometimes I suspect that this is the primary function of the cold and flu viruses that send us to bed out of necessity. If we don't do it for ourselves, they do it for us. Obviously, they overshoot the goal and we're often miserable for days or weeks. Best to choose our own time and make it as pleasurable as possible, don't you think?
One of the benefits of choosing to take a time out is that you can plan it. You can make a favorite soup, quiche or salad, have your favorite tea on hand and secure your favorite chocolate, if that is your pleasure. A can't-put-it-down book and a few issues of "The New Yorker" or other magazines are essential, too, as are fresh sheets, crisp and tight against the mattress. A good thermos is good, too, so that you'll have plenty of hot tea right next to your bed.
When I take such a time out, I like light fare, not comfort foods as we usually think of them, but comforting foods. If the weather is cold or stormy, I'll make crock-pot polenta and have simple toppings — olive oil, teleme cheese and maybe some toasted walnuts — on hand. But if the weather is mild, I'll make a citrus salad the night before. I also like to have bone broth in a small crock pot, as it is one of the most restorative foods I know and I like to sip espresso cups of it throughout my day of seclusion. By the time night falls, I'm ready for something a bit more substantial, French-style scrambled eggs, perhaps, or homemade soup, but nothing too hefty or filling. I end the day with a glass of wine and drift into sleep, all the more delicious for the restorative rest that came before it.