Kindness of Strangers (and Friends)

Monday, January 25, 2010

-The first step in rebuilding a kitchen.-

When the character Blanche DuBois said, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," I thought she was plum crazy. Or at least the product of another era where people kept their front doors unlocked and welcomed weary travelers over for sandwiches and a tall, perspiring glass of refreshing sweet tea.

For the most part strangers leave me addeled; they cut you off in the road, walk slowly in front of you at the market, spit, swindle, and generally are a wholly unpleasant bunch.

Stranger danger is an appropriate phrase because so often in life we find it to be true. We warn children of strangers telling them, "They'll take you away!" to inflict the right amount of fear. We walk back to our cars from the bar eyes searching for strangers, and fingers wrapped tightly around car keys or a can of mace ready to go for the eyes.

Yet, since the fire I have been proven utterly and totally wrong. I've been rocked at the total outpouring of sympathy and compassion from strangers and, particularly, from you readers.

I cannot express how much it has meant to read your comments and e-mails. I've learned so much about all of you; heard tales of your own fires, earthquakes, and other disasters. Many of you shared how to best deal with complications such as insurance policies, or how to simply begin putting life back together as it once was.

Your words expressed joy at how such events can be a blessing in disguise. More than a few of you have noted that there is a certain ecstasy in the unbridled, somewhat gregarious, and at times obscene amount of shopping you're encouraged to do afterwards to replace things (I think I dropped a few G's in one day replacing all my crappy old furniture that was destroyed with new, shiny furniture).

I was amazed at how many people, total strangers, offered to send me books, spices, pots and pans to help replace what was lost and it brought me to tears and made me realize just how many truly, amazing, generous people are out there.

The other night I was out at Onespeed, a little place in Sacramento known for good pizza (to be honest, it had the best pizza I've ever eaten in the U.S.). A guy who worked there came up and said hello to me and wanted to express his sympathies for the fire and all that had happened. My mind flew into a panic at who this person could be to know my personal life. I couldn't recall his name or face. I didn't know this guy. I was a bit freaked out. Who is he? How does he know my life!?

Because I put it on a blog. And apparently he's a reader. And then he comped BF and me beer while we waited for our table. I was moved by this small gesture (and a little tipsy as I was on an empty stomach at the time) as it meant so much after a day of painting and plumbing. Duder, you rock my socks.

Of course, it isn't just strangers. Fellow bloggers have been willing to help me rebuild my kitchen.

-Will do!-

When I lost all my cookbooks to water damage a few years ago Kalyn immediately sent me a copy of The Joy of Cooking. After the fire she raided her spice cabinet and sent me a veritable boon of spices. She says she got them as trials or samples; I think she raided a Turkish caravan on the Silk Road and left no survivors. How else does she explain sending me over twenty full jars of spices? Hungarian and smoked paprika. Garam Masala. Curry powder. Rosemary. Even marjoram, a spice I have never used and could use some advice on. Kalyn is the definition of kindess and, possibly, a spice bandit.

The ever poignant Ruhlman, a friend I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time drinking hanging out with in Mexico, sent me an extra scale. One that had seen the tests and trials of his landmark cookbook, Ratio. I have a piece of culinary history in my kitchen now.

And, of course, I have to thank my best bud Elise Bauer. She, whom I called at 2 in the morning, crying as I watched my roof literally go down among flames and the rasping roar of firemen's chainsaws. Who gave me, my cats, and my roommate a place to stay. When we came in reeking of smoke and trailing ash and mud into her door she simply smiled and gave us made beds and a place to shower. Who put us up for a month and gave us free reign of her home. Elise, I don't know how to ever repay you.

Too many others have all pitched in to help, and you know who you are. Thank you.

So in all this I have learned to never underestimate the kindness of strangers - strangers no longer - and the kindness of friends.


  1. Garrett, I'm just going to say here that you inspire this kindness because of your oh shall I say...your oh so wonderfully ingenuous delight in life, that is somehow coupled with a wisdom beyond your years. Of course your creative energy does seem to win people over. But again, perhaps I shouldn't say that. I will also say that on my way home to Japan I was rethinking the whole giving away of my itchy spray thing. No problem, childbirth prepared me to move beyond. I had my share of scratched up bloody smears by the time I got home, but as they say in the vernacular "it's all good." Too bad I don't live in the U.S.. I have an overload of excess spices. What can I say? I don't want to be without. See you in Berkeley. Nancy

  2. On the subject of marjoram:
    Marjoram is the cultivated version of oregano. It is a little woodier and sharper tasting that it's cousin. Common in German, English and French cooking, it's a great addition to dark meats such as beef or goose. It also goes well in breads such as a garlic herb bread or alone in cornbread. I use it as a component of Italian Seasoning and anytime I use oregano.

    I was so sorry to hear about your fire. My house burned down 8 years ago and for as traumatic as it was it began a time for renewal for my and my family that was unmatched. It was one of the the worst days of our lives but the best thing that ever happened us as a family.

    I hope you find it as freeing as we did.

  3. I'm so glad you're being well taken care of. You're such a kind and lovely person that it's easy to want to help you. As you begin rebuilding the possessions of your life, I hope you're able to see the bittersweet side of losing everything. Life, just breathing, is so precious, and you have such a gift for writing that memories should serve you well for those things that are irreplaceable. I love you!

  4. Since joining this amazing world of food blogging, I have been surprised and touched by the generosity of so many bloggers. Kalyn has also been very kind to me - she is a gem! I am glad to hear that your kitchen is taking shape again and hope that the support of others continues to get you through this difficult time.

  5. Oh Garrett. If one of our favorite food bloggers told us that his kitchen has went up in flames, what else are we to do but help him recover and rebuild? It speaks volumes of how much we are invested in you. You share and give so much to us, it's the least we can do.

  6. I am not new to your blog, but this is the first time I have ever commented. You always impress me, and you always make me laugh. Reading your blog makes me envision a warm light-drenched kitchen and I love that. I am so sorry for all the frustration this ordeal has cost you and am so excited for you that you are finding a new start out of it. Sage, Saffron, and Jasmine (my cats) say Hi to Eat Beast.

  7. What an uplifting post. It is nice to see that there really are nice good people out there. We do have a kind spirit and even those that seem not so nice I'm sure have a little kindness flame that brightens from time to time.
    This post really made me smile : )

  8. It's good to see a "smile on your face," although in the short time I got to know you I think you always had a smile on your face.

    It's also good to see that you've found the bright side in life through this grim and dismal experience.

  9. Garrett
    I just heard about your fire. I'm so sorry you're going through that, and it's so cool that your fans and friends are there for you when you need them.
    Also, just spoke with Stephanie at, and it looks like we have a connection! Maybe I'll shoot you an email when I next head up to Sac. And although One Speed wasn't open, I used to work at Waterboy when I lived there. Might be a good place for a cocktail!

  10. Garret,

    I am so happy that YOU won the sensuous writing contest! Because of it, I got to check your blog out and find out that you are awesome, dude. And I love your writing. Sorry to hear about your tribulations, though. Things WILL get better soon.

  11. There is nothing like tragedy to bring out the best of anyone, whether a close friend or someone who simply reads about it. You have been mightily blessed and it's a wonderful thing to see. Here's to moving forward, shiny and new.

  12. I'm always amused and heart-fully delighted in the kindness of bloggers. They are all a truly wonderful.

    Wishing you luck rebuilding your little corner of the world back.

    Thanks for the inspiration, I'm so happy I just found your blog!

  13. Hi Garrett, I'm thankful to see that you're recovering since the fire, and I'm glad that so many people have been able to help you out. It's also a relief that you, your BF, and your cats are all safe after something a scary as a fire. I know you were going to take your cats to the vet to have them checked out...I hope you were able to do the same for yourself, with a people-doctor of course.:)

    Be well, stay safe and lot's of love!

  14. Dude, you have a new place now? I've been waiting until then to offer you some wild game. I have a ton in my freezer right now. Come over and bring a cooler!

  15. Hank - Sweet! Though I can only take so much. Itty bitty fridge and freezer.

  16. Your entry this time bring me to tears, not only it was nicely written (as usual)but also to praise all the good samaritans you've mentioned. Bless them all, and bless you Garrett..

  17. Often there is more pleasure and happiness from giving to others than receiving. Kindness and giving is a gift to be cherished. Enjoy your blog!

  18. It makes me so happy to hear that you're able to start replenishing your kitchen supplies, bit by bit, and I was so pleased that I had extra spices and could afford to share them with you. There's nothing quite so satisfying as the feeling of being able to give something to someone who needs and appreciates it; that's what win-win is all about. And I'm excited to hear that others are also contributing generously to the kitchen rebuilding process, and of course, not the least bit surprised to hear that Elise has also been generous in helping you. She is someone who always inspires me to be a better human being.

    Thanks to Robin for the enlightenment on marjoram too! I'm looking forward to seeing what wonderful treats are going to be coming from your new kitchen soon.


  19. I love bloggers. They have helped me with so, so much over the course of the last two and a half years I've kept it. And I can only hope to give just a little bit back to the universe!

  20. Kalyn, a spice bandit? Who knew? ;)


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