At Home with Julia Kennedy: A Recipe for Spice Rice

I rejoice in solitude when the house is quiet and no one might disturb the comings and goings of my rituals. Right now, I sit perched here in my kitchen, alone, for the moment blissful. I can hear Alice Coltrane, Roxy Music Avalon, two angelic cats tumble, and the birds.

Pre-dusk in Eagle Rock at the Avian Sanctuary, which is my yard, where I rest my gaze through the window of my office. It’s a busy time—everyone doing their work, racing the light before it is time to tuck into each nest. Tiny hummingbirds perch on tiny branches in the oak tree, heavy packs of crows skulk and bob around, harassing the garden. Closer to sunset, if I am lucky, all the peace is disturbed by a great murmuration of green, a cackling, rambunctious emerald ribbon billowing in the sky.

The parrots conjure great stories in my imagination. They are not a native species and I like to make up different stories about how they got here: it’s the year 1927 and a Mary Pickford-esque woman is just back from holidays in the Yucatan with the little green bird who captured her heart. She places him in a gilded ornate cage by the rubber tree plant next to her window. But everyday he cries loudly and woefully to the afternoon, missing his wings, his friends, and over time she is brought to the heartbreaking realization that all birds must be held with an open hand. Tearfully, she sets him free to frolic in the date palms.

I stare out the window and dream of the peacock I saw running down Lake Street in Pasadena earlier today. These thoughts help me to keep a steady heart and mind so I can focus—on writing this for instance—in a loftier space of consciousness. But then the light begins to slip away and to keep the stillness and peace in my heart is a struggle, because sooner or later darkness falls and in creep, ever so slowly, the shredded rags of loneliness. Poor lost peacock, what were you doing running through downtown?

Everyone is lost. I am lost. Long silky black dogs bey and nip. I am the baby in the box. I am a small, small child in a dark abyss. A black box. Emptiness befalls my heart. I am ALONE.

Do I write a poem or stick my head in an oven?

Sideswipe, this familiar spiral. I’ve discovered after many hours of psychoanalysis this might be because I was born a month premature—ripped from the womb too soon, causing my mum to bleed almost to death, and left in an incubator alone too much. I often feel this strong duality: open into the abyss or fall into the abyss. Birth is by design violent and I am weary, I suppose, of whether or not there will be welcoming arms to receive me. Will I be thrust into the universal maternal wing or dropped on the cold floor of the operating room? When contending with two possible and contradicting parallel dimensions within, it’s hard to imagine that both realities are me. I am the demon and the good mother, the one who holds and the one who drops.

I am the one who might drink a bottle of wine or two while watching endless hours of Real Housewives to help me feel less alone. I am also the one who knows going down that path leaves me more alienated from my bird murmurations than ever.

So I have been learning to hold on and let myself watch the patterns in the sky.

There are parallels between the house of the heart/mind and the physical home I keep. I like to imagine the same is true for those lives I touch, whom I let in and out. The acts, rituals, rites, and ragas carried out by the hearth are also carried out into public space. Their regenerative, stabilizing power gives psychic strength and creates living ties between all the comers and goers of our proverbial “homes.”

In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard describes Intimate Immensity as a loose realm of poetry activated by the contemplation of Immensity in a pure kind of singular way, not based in a specific reality. This is the state for poetry, a space of communion with one’s own inner muse, and essentially a chance to live at a higher vibration, more presently, intensely. There is “an increase in being.” Accessing this place alone is nourishing, a way I can understand of seeing aloneness as a way of being there for yourself, in yourself, with yourself, holding your own heart. Where Gaston finds poetic retreat within one’s solitary, immense “quiet daydreams,” I find also this great, lurking, threatening darkness. I have to welcome it to get through it.

At the Nourishing Dinner Table of the Universe, a seemingly simple gesture—cooking a meal—creates intimate, immense moments of external harmony with my inner realm. I don’t know if it is more wholesome to cook for yourself than to binge-watch reality shows, but I find myself in the kitchen doing the soul-crafting necessary to lead me to a more whole place. And so, when the void tries to pull me in, a thrashing dove in the dark finds comfort in a dish called Spice Rice.

Spice Rice

1 cup of short grain brown rice 2 cups of beef broth, plus a splash 1 small onion 1 tablespoon of Harissa paste* Olive oil Salt and pepper to taste (if you are using store-bought broth, test it for saltiness first and adjust accordingly) Green onion + more olive oil for finishing

*I buy a good quality Harissa paste made in-house at my favorite grocery store, Cookbook, in Highland Park. Any good spice store or Middle Eastern grocer should have it. Fresh is best. Or make your own!

Generously coat the bottom of a small heavy-bottomed pan with olive oil. Coarsely chop the onions into little bits and sauté on low heat for about fifteen minutes, until they begin to caramelize, turning golden. Slow, low heat is the key, bringing out the natural sugars.

Next add the Harissa paste and let it cook with the onions for a couple minutes while you rinse the rice in a sieve. Add rice to the pan and stir everything together. Let sit for a minute. Then add the broth and stir. Turn up the heat. To medium?

When everything comes to the boil it’s time to stir again, and to reduce the flame to a simmer and cover the pan. Leave it for thirty minutes. Check quickly for doneness. If the rice is al dente, put the lid back on for five minutes, then turn off the heat. If it is still quite liquid, leave it for another ten minutes, then turn off the flame and let it sit covered for ten more.

Finally—uncover, fluff, and serve! I like to finish it with a big glug of olive oil and freshly chopped green onions, then top with a fried, runny-yolked egg and plate with braised greens