So let’s review, shall we? In the last few weeks we’ve established that, in the realm of adulthood I am socially gawky, politically aware, and both vertically and organizationally challenged. I may have gotten that stamp for adulting, but some of the corners are not glued down.
However, in at least one area of adult practice, I am pretty self-sufficient – I learned to cook as a kid and have always felt at home in a kitchen. Anyone’s kitchen. If the option is available, I will always gravitate to the food prep area at a party. There’s something settling about the backstage area of a kitchen, the slight mess and bustle, the place where the magic sweats and bakes and really happens. Back in the day, I had a few dinner parties of my own, cooking for hours – or even days – and basking the glow of contentment afterwards.
There is both art and precision in cooking that simultaneously satisfies my scientific and creative sides. I can spend hours researching the perfect combinations of food, creating my own recipes from ones that I like, but aren’t quite it. I have spent an entire afternoon soaking rice paper wrappers one at a time, making dozens of spring rolls. I once spent two days making a roasted butternut squash soup for a club banquet, roasting vegetables to make my own vegetable stock the first day, then roasting the squash, apples, and onions the second day to create a soup so creamy, no one could believe there was no cream in it. It didn’t win any prizes in the evening’s competition, but I didn’t bring home much, because so many people asked for some. That was prize enough for me.
I love feeding people. It feeds the nourisher in me. That look on someone’s face when they taste something you made and want more – it’s gold. It’s also something I learned from my Dad. Many of my earliest memories center around fun and food. He loved to cook and loved learning new techniques and recipes. He learned the finer points of entire cuisines for the pure fun of it. He loved food and all the joy it could bring. He loved sharing that with others, including me, and I love that we shared it. We cooked together, every time we were together. During my summer trips to see my folks, Dad and I would spend whole days planning and cooking meals. During one family vacation on Cape Cod, I remember him coming back from the fish shop in Wellfleet. He handed me a package of mystery stuff. “Here – cook.” I looked through the packages and looked in the cookbooks I’d brought with me and I cooked. Yes – I brought cookbooks on vacation. That was what vacation was for. Living in a landlocked state, I never got to cook really good seafood otherwise. It was glorious fun.
Dad passed away a few years ago. Among the many things I miss, I miss being in his kitchen, having him in mine. We loved with full hearts and full flavor. I get my sense of adventure and enjoyment from him. I still cook from his recipes, especially his bread. Watching Dad knead the dough was like watching a virtuoso play a solo. He gave his entire
attention to it. Once I learned how to bake, I could see why. There is something spiritual and blessed about growing a living loaf from a few assorted powders and liquids, having it come alive, resilient under my hands. I tell people I like making bread because I like to play with my food (really – that “adult” thing is not glued on too tight); in reality, the alchemy of it is sensual, alive, and irresistible. It’s possible to feel the moment a kneaded dough reaches that point of springiness that says it’s ready to rise. And once it has risen – there is nothing like the pillowy softness of that first punch down, with a release of sweet, yeasty breath. It’s exquisite. The fact that, in the end, you get to eat this magic – even though I’ve probably baked hundreds of breads – still amazes me. If you’ve never made bread – go, buy fresh yeast, and give it a try. It will bring you joy. Every adult needs some of that.
Stay tuned for more on the Here’s a Quarter blog next week! Your thoughts and comments are always welcome – they are moderated (I know – adulting again), so they may take a little while to appear, but I read them all and appreciate that you were here. Thank you!