Posted in cooking, creativity, food, human nature

Therapy

Have you ever noticed a scent coming back to you hours or days after you inhaled it, as fresh and as potent as it was? And have you noticed that memories associated with that scent come rushing back as well? And that the same thing happens with objects you may see? Or sounds you may hear? A train whistle fading as it passes, a siren rushing to an emergency? Wind chimes warning of an approaching storm?

My head has been swarming with thoughts and memories, dredged up by sensory overload. I could drown out the noise by focusing on yet another volume of fictional angst and fury that dwarfs my own, as I have been doing the past month, but today I yearn only to bake bread.

There’s something wholly satisfying about proofing yeast, the stringent, heady vapors it produces, blending ingredients, small batches at a time until they form a dough that can be twisted, pounded, and kneaded into a satiny mass, rolled into a greased bowl and left to rise, only to be worked again. And when the dough is ready to bake—having been dressed with beaten egg or butter, its aroma rises from the oven, saturating the air, replacing all the other offending scents and sights and sounds with the knowledge that nourishment and pleasure are in the future, along with the joy of that first warm bite, slathered with honey or butter or nothing.

How sweet to look at that glistening, golden braid, or round, or loaf, and say, I made that. How thoroughly soothing; how incomparably delicious.

©2019 All Rights Reserved


Posted in cooking, food, Nature

Along the Way

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Photo by SplitShire on Pexels.com

I tried a bit of ice cream the other day, a popular brand, and didn’t like it. The taste of sugar was so overpowering, it was impossible for me to taste anything else.

When I bake, I under-sweeten. I want to taste nuts and fruit and chocolate, experience how they complement each other. Sugar should tone down acidity or bitterness, or simply enhance flavors, not dominate them.

Domination is too prevalent these days, too accepted. Maybe that’s why sugar came to mind.

When foods are cooked properly their natural sugars will develop. I often glaze pecans with a light blend of organic maple syrup and sea salt. Our family and guests love them. But yesterday I was lazy and toasted them without the glaze. They emerged sweet and dangerously addictive from the oven, and we gobbled them up. No one asked about the missing glaze. No one cared.

***

When I was seven my parents sent me to summer camp, far away from where we lived. It was my first time on an airplane. It was the first time I would be away from them for months.

I hated it.

But, strangely, what I remember most about that camp were the raspberries.

They grew wild and in abundance along the mountain path which led to a nearby lake, and our swimming lessons.

We didn’t pick any on the way up. Everyone’s parents had issued warnings about not swimming on a full stomach. Indeed, the trek to our lessons always occurred at least an hour after lunch. But on the way back to our cabins, we picked as many as we could stuff into our pockets and eat along the way, ignoring our counselors’ advice to leave them there.

You’ll get worms, you’ll get sick.

We heard it every day. But we never did.

And I’ve never tasted such large and perfectly ripe berries since, berries that squirted sweetness with every bite, and no trace of acidity.

I used to buy berries for salads and desserts, picking, as I do with all produce I purchase, the ones that look ripest, ready for consumption.

But they are always too tart for me, begging for the sugar they have not been allowed to make on their own.

So I don’t buy them anymore.

***

I learned to swim that summer. It’s the other memory that stands out, because I discovered, once I realized I wasn’t going to drown, I was good at it.

But sometimes I long for those raspberries—the anticipation of putting them in my mouth, delighting in their exquisitely balanced flavors…

…and the incomparable pleasure of finding something good, unspoiled, of knowing it was there.

©2018 All Rights Reserved

 

Posted in family, food, human nature, Politics

Pan Fried

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My parents had a cast iron skillet. It wasn’t very big, but many of the meals we had came out of it—eggs, burgers, chicken, steaks, fish, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

The color of pitch, every surface of that pan was so slickly well-seasoned that nothing stuck to it. I have no idea how long they had it, or how long it took to season it, but it was perfection.

A few years after my mother died, my father moved into assisted living. Since he wasn’t going to be cooking there, everything in the kitchen, along with the rest of the apartment, had to be cleaned out. It was difficult to make the choices—what to keep, what to give away, or toss. My brother and I pulled the pan out of a cabinet and stared at it, then looked at each other. It was as though the mere sight of it brought our childhoods back in floods.

We had a lot to go through that day, and left the pan on the stove to finish sorting. It seemed right at the time.

~ ~ ~

You can throw a lot into a pan when you’re cooking. Sometimes you plan, and other times it’s whatever you have in the house. The pan, of course, especially if it’s cast iron, has to be seasoned.

Having grown up with a perfect pan, one of the first things I wanted after getting married, was a set of cast iron frying pans. I found a pair the hue of matte pewter, and bought them. When I got them home, I oiled and heated and wiped them down. Then I oiled and heated them again, but nothing I cooked in them tasted right. I didn’t get it. How could my parents’ pan be so magical, and these pans be so completely not….

Then one morning, I decided to fry some bacon and split it between the two pans.

So much depends on what goes in.

~ ~ ~

When my brother was in his teens, he’d use our parents’ pan to cook breakfasts for himself. He’d start with eggs, whatever else sounded good—onions, peppers, ham, ketchup, cheese, and throw it all into the blender for a few good whirs before pouring it into the pan. He claimed the results were delicious. I wasn’t convinced.

~ ~ ~

My head feels like a blender these days. The spinning jumbles everything in a way that separates and connects without reason, or time to find reason. And, from the whirring, come stray thoughts—about personal space, how our definition of it has changed over the decades, how those changes shape our social interactions, and thoughts about personal and business interactions, those I’ve written off as jerkiness, or, as a former boss used to call it, “Terminal Assholery,” and those I’ve recognized as threats to my safety and well-being. In the mix are thoughts about unwarranted self-righteousness, greed, abuse of power, cruelty, hypocrisy, bigotry, warmongering, unfettered mania, and a dwindling awareness of what is real and what is not. Worst of all, emerging from the slop, is a fear that our collective sense of humor is waning, our ability to laugh, find reasons to laugh.

You can throw too much into a blender.

~ ~ ~

There was a day, not so long ago, when my brother and I had begun to gray, that he plied his alchemy with the bounty we bought at a local farmer’s market. This time, he chopped and sautéed, giving each ingredient a chance to express itself, complement others, develop and transform, and used his own favorite pan to create a meal of many flavors which had both of us swooning.

~ ~ ~

My own frying pans are the color of pitch now, just as my parents’ was, and their surfaces are perfectly sealed and seasoned.

But I can’t stop thinking about the pan forgotten on the stove—what went into it, what came out.

And I wish I’d taken it with me.

©2017 All Rights Reserved