By Carly Leusner | Photos by Elaine Papa
“What a man does for pay is of little significance.
What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world’s beauty, is everything!”
—H.P. Lovecraft (from a letter to Maurice W. Moe, January 1929)
Forming relationships with wild plants that feed and heal is much like opening our hearts to deeper wisdom from the most humble teachers; their lessons and gifts are simple and profound. What teachings come when we listen to the plants? To our elders, teachers, mentors?
This year I’ve noticed a bumper crop of wise women in my life especially driving home the lesson of what it means to take care and share.
Thoughts always on my mind: “Where do I have space in my life? What and who do I make space for? Where do I feel abundant, open, and generous? When do I feel closed, self-protective, and scarce?”
Good grandmother witches are everywhere encouraging beauty, leaving cornucopia crumb trails in their wake. They are the kind who dole out love in soup and appreciation in cards. Women who sow flowers for winged nectar-eating fairies, plant labyrinths of herbs to share with neighbors, and whip up batches of lavender kombucha just because.
These women ooze generosity with unyielding ambition to keep afloat a love buoy where weary world-swimmers can take rest, constantly feeding their small gifts of food and love to fellow animals and earthbound friends. Their wisdom is humbly cloaked, and their medicine disguised in a childlike curiosity. I hope to become like them someday, to see every moment as so spacious I feel compelled to give, share, and connect because that’s my priority, my gift as a human.
Alice Cozzolino embodies this wisdom, creating a world where food is always shared, in a steady quiet way on par with the miraculous nonchalance of a fruit tree.
Italian, she compulsively shares food, giving her love away by the bite. She cooks for a clutch of hungry, busy friends in the hills and valley at her new venture Alice’s Kitchen, delivering a hearty supply of wholesome food each week. She’s always sending me out the door with an armload of extras after my workday. She just can’t help it.
The culinary lessons from Alice meet me as a quiet persistent glow, subtle but of undeniable depth and power. Listening to food, adding and building flavor in successive waves, and tucking in the perfect egg roll—she’s a true kitchen goddess. Always stretching to learn, expand, and create with boundless grace and endurance, Alice is famous for her alchemical prowess, infusing each dish with her generous, loving spirit. Her food wobbles knees and pacifies hearts. I am terribly lucky to be her student.
Each Monday Alice’s kitchen team and her partner Amy’s small troop of pollinator nursery tenders gather to feast on a meal together. Mondays are not lackadaisical by any measure; the current of work runs steady. There is much to prep, cook, steam, fry, and pack before Tuesday afternoon. Alice usually works upwards of a 20-hour day to accomplish this feat of food glory for her patrons. Still, somehow, her magnanimity prevails in the midst of an impossible to-do list and she prepares an over-the-top gourmet lunch. We laugh and tell stories, devour and sip for a luxurious hour. The table is set with bright plates, candles, and a lavish smorgasbord of food.
One day hustling to fill the lunch table with food, Alice decorated a cheese plate with home-grown grapes, warmed garden soup, roasted potatoes, buttered green beans––all spoils from their garden––while delegating the finishing details that make these meals special. I set the table, wrangled mugs and juice glasses, and brought out the mulled cider and hot chai––the usual ritual. Alice offered me some sliced melon (just picked from their hoop house), which she asked me to spread enticingly on a plate, with fresh nasturtium flowers. The blossoms, though edible, were not offered as food but to sanctify our experience––of the moment, each other, to better worship the melon we were about to eat.
These tidbits of Alice transform me to a swollen balloon of disbelief and amazement. A diligent champion of beauty, there is no such thing as an act too frivolous if in service to feeding our spirit. When the workaholic demon dressed as a Yankee farmer shames my wandering heart, art for the sake of beauty, and circuitous pleasure-seeking nature, I think of Alice whose expression of love beams out in the syrupy song of flower garnishes, fine grape-embellished cheese boards, and hand-cut zucchini salsas. Even in the midst of a dramatically long day. Food as art. Food as love. The world is food. The world is love. This is her message, so constant, clear, and magnetic.
I see these wise women in the trees. Wild apples who bear small fruits, punchy and sweet. Their gnarly twisted branches riddled with seeds of future saplings. Heavy with apples, they joyfully pass on a legacy, drop after drop, keeping alive that which feeds. They teach us to celebrate the harvest and let go in fall; in winter to take shelter in deep warm places, roots and dreams entangled in peaceful animal burrows.
Their lessons help us soften and flex with the shifting seasonal rhythms, always silently suggesting where to find the tastiest spirit food.
Early spring sap rises from deep roots and the bubbling well of latent juiciness inspires our dreams and plans. As the primordial ooze of mud season passes, their ripe buds rev our bodies with anticipation. Tenacious rumblings for growth and expansion take hold, the aggressive will of a sunflower sprout, bursting forth from sleeping stores, hungry for light, unfurling with purposeful grace. The wet, windy, raw ride of spring can challenge us. Yet the most delicate, heartbreaking flowers greet us first thing. Amidst the growing pains of becoming and unfurling, flowers are beacons of levity. They teach us the ecstatic joy of being alive and that celebration for this truth can and most definitely should happen rhythmically anytime and as often as possible.
Blessing for the Senses
May your body be blessed.
May you realize that your body is a faithful
and beautiful friend of your soul.
And may you be peaceful and joyful and recognize that your senses are sacred thresholds.
May you realize that holiness is
mindful, gazing, feeling, hearing, and touching.
May your senses gather you and bring you home.
May your senses always enable you to
celebrate the universe and the mystery
and possibilities in your presence here.
May the Eros of the Earth bless you.
– John O’Donohue in Anam Cara
Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace
Recipe for Alice's Roasted Beet Salad