O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you,
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the soul, (and that they are the soul,)
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and that they are my poems[.]-- Walt Whitman, "I Sing the Body Electric"
My friend's heart turns one this month. Actually, I guess it really turns 61, or something close to that, but it will have been his heart for a year. And to look at him, you'd never know he had a heart transplant. It's astounding. He is astounding.
Before the transplant, he was a runner and a cyclist, one of the healthiest people I know, doing half marathons without blinking and riding centuries regularly on the weekends. He didn't smoke or drink. He cooked for his family from their organic co-op vegetable share, and fed them (much to his Southerner wife's disappointment, sometimes) a mostly plant-based diet. When he was rushed to the ER for what they thought was asthma, they discovered that his heart had been operating at 6% of its capacity for quite some time; it was heavily scarred, and he'd been overcompensating. It was a blow to all of us: he was our age, had two young children, was a fabulous stay at home dad. How could this happen to someone like him?
His hospital stay was a long haul, involving medications, multiple surgeries with balloons, until they finally decided to move forward with the transplant. Then an infection, and more surgery. We prayed a lot. We weren't sure he was going to live. I visited his wife at the hospital, trying to make her feel better; often, she made me feel better. Her courage was humbling. I organized a meal train for them, doing the only thing I knew how: feeding them and anyone else who came to stay with the kids.
My friend pulled through, came home shortly after the hurricane that left his family without power or water for two weeks, and slowly, one day at a time, began to look more like himself again. He was a walking miracle to me. When I started to see him regularly at the Y, I knew that he was on his way to a full recovery. Seeing him made my heart happy; everything about him exuded LIFE.
This weekend, my friend ran his first 5K since the transplant: in his birthday suit. (And I'm sure he won't mind me posting that information, as long as I'm not posting pictures.) He's not a nudist, but he loves his body. And I think that this year, this race, this first race since his transplant, was a reason for him to celebrate every inch of his being. I respect him, not just for running in the Moonshine race (along with the 70 or so other runners who also participated in this 5K, yes it's an official event, and not even on a college campus!), but for genuinely appreciating the body he was given, and the body he was gifted when he got his new heart.
How many times have I hated my body for what it couldn't do, for what it did, for what it looked like, for what it didn't look like? How about you?
Today, with my friend, I sing the body electric.
Basil Pine Nut Praline Ice Cream
(adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home)
Basil and pine nuts are both known aphrodesiacs (from the Greek Aphrodite, goddess of love, desired by all men). Give your body a little love.
2 c. whole milk
1 T. plus 1 t cornstarch
3 T. cream cheese softened
1/4 t. fine sea salt
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
2/3 c. sugar
2 T. light corn syrup
1 large handful fresh basil leaves cut to small pieces
1/3 c. honey nut pralines (see below)
Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.
Combine the remaining milk the cream sugar and corn syrup in a 4-quart saucepan, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes, Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
Gradually whisk the hot milk into the cream cheese until smooth. Add the basil. Submerge the mixture partway in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.
Strain out the basil. Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy. Pack the ice cream into a storage container, folding in the honey pine nut pralines as you go. Press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.
Honey Nut Pralines
1/2 c. pine nuts, walnuts, black walnuts, or pecans, halved if you prefer smaller bits
2 T. light brown sugar
2 T. honey
1 T. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the nuts with the remaining ingredients in a bowl, tossing to coat. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Stir and bake for another 5 to 6 minutes, stirring twice; the nuts should look bubbly and somewhat dry. Remove from the oven and let cool completely, stirring the nuts every couple of minutes to break them up.