Posts Tagged 'cooking'

Walter

Walter in high school was not voted most likely to.

Walter in college did not distinguish himself.

Walter as an agent in his father’s insurance agency fell asleep in front of the green blinking data entry screens that measured out his days one blink, then another, then another.

Walter as a fiancée was comforting but not hot.

Walter slept well and drove a 4 door Buick when he was 22.

Walter’s hairline began to recede, slowly, at 27, but never blossomed into full-on male pattern baldness.

At 35, Walter’s wife, Elaine, left him for a slightly younger version of himself. Walter was mystified but not furious about this. They had no children, and Elaine disappeared back into the lake of his undistinguished youth without a ripple.

At 38, Walter went to his neighborhood Whole Foods market, where he bought a pint of black bean, corn and red bell pepper salad. Walking to the men’s room on his way out, he passed the community bulletin board. He read all the ads, in order, from left top to right bottom. At the far right corner, almost expired per the store’s 30 day policy, was an ad for International Cooking Classes, to be held in a home some two miles from the store. Walter pulled the tab with the phone number and stuck it in his wallet, where it stayed for months.

Around Thanksgiving, Walter, reflecting that he was almost 40, divorced, childless and uninterested in himself, found the tab in his wallet and called the number.

“No, no international cooking classes any more. I didn’t get enough people signed up. I’m teaching homeopathics now. You could sign up for that, it’s here at my house,” said the woman, whose name was Reina. No, Walter told her, he didn’t really want to study homeopathics. He wanted to learn to cook. Did she do private cooking lessons?

There was a short silence on the phone, and a brief negotiation about the cost of private lessons.

On the following Thursday, Walter went to Reina’s house. He brought with him an apron and a chef’s hat, both virginal white, and a set of hot mitts. Reina promised to provide the cooking utensils and the food.

That first week they sat at the table looking at cookbooks, identifying utensils by name, defining some basic cooking methods – dry heat, baking, braising, sautee, and so on. Walter took notes.

The second week they met at the Whole Foods in the produce department and they talked produce – quality indicators in different fruits and vegetables, seasonality, local growing patterns. They touched and smelled, they looked at prices and they looked at weather. Walter took notes.

The third week they met at Reina’s house. Walter brought pancetta, walnuts, chard, goat cheese, baguette, wine, beets and olive oil. At 7 p.m., they began.

Scapegoat

I’ve been a scapegoat more times that I can count. Many’s the time I found myself tangled in some ridiculous, false, absurd accusation. Frankly, I believe that scapegoating is hard wired into human interaction.

At least that’s what my grandfather always said, and he was something of an expert on the subject. Jungian fellow, always looking for the archetype. What we have here, he said to me when I was 8, is a classic example of scapegoating. I was crushed, the ridiculous sad clown of the third grade, smacked down and beaten up by every fifth grader and even a few fourth graders every time the teachers turned their backs.

It was interesting the first time he talked about it. He told me half a dozen examples from his own case histories, each one worse than what I’d just experienced. By the time I’d heard it again and again, in 6th grade, 8th, 9th and on throughout highschool, though, it wasn’t interesting anymore. Grandpa had started to grow hair out of his ears, which I took to mean he could tell me whatever stupid Jungian story he wanted, but couldn’t hear anything I had to say back to him. Like, that’s fine in the abstract, but what does the scapegoat do about it?

This occurred to me around 17, last year of high school. I’d been a dumb suffering brute up until then, but suddenly this voice came to me — hey hey heeeeey, what about this, what about this harassment, there are plenty of other doofus 17 year old guys with skin worse than mine, worse social problems, why this relentless singling out of me? Me?  I can see myself, 14 years old, helping my mother make mayonnaise for her Sunday afternoon card game, and it doesn’t  look so bad, the white are raising, the yolks are blending, the lemon is lemony but not oppressive. Somehow, by Monday morning every jock and every cheerleader in Cherry Hills Middle School knows I’ve been making mayonnaise with my mommy. Mayo Clinic, they called me for three months.

Maybe that’s why I went to cooking school instead of medical school. I had a rich, complex, unusual relationship to the tongue, which I processed and served mixed with conventional ingredients that were presented in fantastic, grotesque shapes at the Madison Food Orgy, a three-day food festival event held in Madison in the early 90s. My tongue won 2nd place for best presentation two years running. This was a terrific first challenge.

There is a lot of disgrace in the food circuit; almost everybody has taken short cuts from time to time, but in cooking, with its small but powerful judges, it’s easy to underestimate the impact of the special foods section. I forgot, for two or three years, but I’m back now.

mayonnaise

Chocolate A Minah

 

Minah had a butterfly collection that she inherited from her grandfather. Her grandfather’s favorite food was meatloaf, with mashed potatoes, green beans, and angel food cake, that her grandmother made with fresh goose eggs every spring. Minah never got the hang of baking. Her angel food came out tough – you beat it too much, she can hear her mother’s voice, whining like a buzz saw.

Don’t listen like that, she thinks to herself and beats the eggs some more. Poor eggs. Throttled. No greatness, no soufflé, her eggs were always fallen like angels. This did eventually lead her to chocolate, which can accept some brutal handling, some sweet heavy evil, some shame. She reminded herself to be grateful for her failure with eggs, especially after chocolate shook her loose from home and into her own sweetest baking moments.

Chocolate was the name of Minah’s first dog. He was an unintentional mastiff, rescued from the shelter as a tiny tiny pup who suddenly and like the incredible hulk became much larger than expected. Holy cow, she said to her mom, to her granddad, to her kid. OMG, said the kid to his friends. WTF said the friends to each other. They compared Chocolate to Clifford as he grew and grew, as he grew too large to lie with his monstrous feet under the dining room table. They compared Chocolate to Puff as he grew huge, affectionate and exiled out in the yard, where he fit and yet did not fit, lonely dog, lonely dragon.

One day they met an unusual man, a spelunking man who had no fear of dark spaces, big dogs, butterflies or the exact science and mystery of baking. He became the friend and sponsor of one large dog, Minah, and her son Kel.  This man had a talent for dogs, friends, chocolate, baking, teaching, and mixing things up.

The first time they met was in the caverns down south, a series of deep caverns with one wide open mouth. Invisible in the dark on the trail into the main cave, Kel was singing songs to himself about his big dog, songs that rhymed and almost rapped. He could see his hands making gangsta moves in the absolute darkness and he felt cool as the inner sanctum and the wet inner wind licking his skin. The guide turned off his light and then the darkness was absolute, an absolution, an absolute acceptance that the eyes would find nothing. The earth shifted around them, there was a smell of damp and guano, and the lights came back on.

Later there were sodas and sandwiches in a brightly lit cafeteria at the bottom, then the walk back up to the surface. They came out just at sunset and the bats were coming home, dark clouds, red sky, air 104 degrees. Arm hairs shaken and rising in the interim space between dark, light, hot, cold, childhood, death. They laughed as strangers on short journeys do, but met again later at the hotel pool, where they talked generally about caves, bats, dogs, baking and butterflies. Then more specifically about chocolate, Chocolate, grandfather’s butterfly collection, and Minah’s difficulty with angel food cake and eggs. This was a natural friendship of man boy dog and woman, lightly mixed, risen and set to cool.

Chocolate lived a very short life, as large dogs do. Minah and Kel had a box of recipes for chocolate desserts with his picture on the lid, and thought of him every time they made something sweet, and thought of the darkness, and thought of the bats rising up into the sunset sky. 


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