Monday, July 28, 2014

Don’t Apologize

“A recipe is not as precise as a chemical formula, since ingredients vary slightly, as do cooking utensils and stoves. But a little difference is sometimes refreshing, and so it will not matter if there is a slight change in the finished product. For example, a sauce or a pudding may be thicker or thinner without being a failure. Don’t apologize! Just present it differently – the softer pudding in dessert glasses instead of on a serving dish as you had planned.”
-       Fannie Farmer, The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Eleventh Edition (original copyright 1896)

I was in a bad mood: I’d been reading the news after breaking up (again) with my mercurial quilting machine. Cooking when in a bad mood can lead one of two outcomes. When it works, cooking can lead to sublime transcendental enlightenment. The risk however, is that as they slowly go bad, failed cooking experiments can generate a gradual accumulation of nameless dread that eventually coalesces so thickly in the kitchen that it triggers the smoke alarm. So cooking while angry is always a risky undertaking - but one I was willing to take on in my dark mood.

Fortunately, I have the key, to escape the nameless dread. Garlic can make all the difference, and I’m not talking about scaring away werewolves. There’s something about the smell of roasting garlic that dispels the dread and summons the sublime. Thus, my challenge was to make something with garlic. Then, there were the other ingredients to assemble like an offering to the gods of anger: I needed comfort food, aka gluten. And obviously, cheese.

I found this cool spicy hot chili oil and I always have fresh basil on the windowsill although these days, my pot is looking a bit tired. So, why not something in the bread machine that will infuse the kitchen with aromas of mental wellbeing and carbohydrates to accompany my postprandial bourbon. So I made the dough in the bread machine, then kneaded it and let it rise on my counter and baked it on the pizza stone in the oven.

Now, I could follow a recipe. But the entire instigation for this cooking effort was the bad mood. And if there's one thing I hate (and there are many more than one thing) I don’t like things bossing me around – especially non-sentient things like signs and recipes.

It was Fannie Farmer who (I think my grandma told me when she gave me the cookbook for a wedding present) first applied the idea of precise measurements to cooking to make the experience more repeatable – like a scientific experiment – and less fraught with pinches of this and handsful of that. Betty Crocker (not to mention Keith Richards) had nothing on Fannie, my friends, when it came to cooking recipes with precise measurements requiring tiny spoons.

So, I consider a recipe to be a place to start cooking, not and exercise in proving a scientific theory about the thickness of a pudding: one that can be repeated with perfect consistency thereby proving the perfect pudding theory.  If I ever write a cookbook, it will be entitled Cooking While Pissed. Unless Julia Child already named one of her books that because it seemed to me that when she cooked with wine she, you know, got baked too. The fact that I was listening to a playlist heavy on the bagpipes had little to do with either the cause of my bad mood or the outcome of my cooking exercise (or with this post, for that matter).

Which was delicious bread, a bit heavy because I may have added too much cheese, thereby proving the scientific theory that yeast doesn’t make cheese rise. So I presented it as transcendently thinly sliced doughy lumps of garlicy cheese instead of bread, and it paired perfectly with my Sunday evening PBS mystery shows. So I’ve got nothing to apologize for. 

And also, by my second bourbon it occurred to me that my paternal grandmother may have given me a cookbook for a wedding present (thereby dramatically foreshadowing the failure of that marriage) but she might have been ahead of her time, slipping in the rather subversive message that a girl shouldn't have to apologize for her cooking. Thanks, Gram!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lost and Found

I have always known
That at last I would
Take this road, but yesterday
I did not know that it would be today.
 - Narihira, translated by Kenneth Rexroth

I have a car with a programmable audible navigation system and a map.  In theory, I should never get lost. In fact, I do get lost. Here. In this town where I’ve lived most of my life.

Not hopelessly lost where I’d starve to death and be found in ten years by hikers; or even tragically lost where I’d be found slightly decomposed within days - like the bodies at the beginning of an episode of CSI. But I tend to turn left when my final destination is on the right and I should know this by now dammit.

I could make the excuse about the main highway that runs through my valley is Route 8 – an east-west road that goes from Arizona to the Pacific Ocean. When Route 8 goes through my valley however, it is actually going north to south, making a big zig-zag to take advantage of passes leading into and out of the valley. That also means that the dozens of secondary roads that criss-cross the valley also tend to veer from their primary north/south path to east/west in some places. Or I could admit that I’m directionally challenged, which is why I was such a failure as a professional feng-shui consultant that my clients’ homes were being possessed by evil spirits and demons. 

But now with my navigation system, whose voice is named Louella, by the way, I no longer need to fear this lack of directional ability - as long as I can program in the address of my destination.

At any rate, I got lost coming home the other night after I dropped a friend off in a part of town I rarely visit. We used Louella to get us there, but I figured I’d find my own way home without her guidance. Which I did, eventually. I was weak with hunger and dizzy from low blood sugar, and I seriously had to pee. But I found a new scenic route that covered 35 miles to return from a destination 20 miles from home.

Instead of worrying about getting lost, I can now work on developing my latest superpower: using power tools. I promise to only use my power tools for good, never to do evil, or trepanning, or to slice body parts small enough to fit in my compost bin. At least not until I get a bone saw blade for my reciprocating saw. Sadly, Home Depot does not stock them. But I bet Amazon does.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it).

Little Betty Winkle, she had a pig –
It was a little pig, not very big;
When he was alive he lived in clover,
But now he’s dead, and that’s all over.
Nurse Lovechild’s legacy - Dirge

While I was occupied overthrowing tyrants, righting wrongs, saving kitties stranded in the branches of tall trees, rescuing damsels in distress, and trying to sleep in, June became July.

It’s not like I need to apologize to my blog for benignly neglecting it; or to explain why my life lately has been filled with horrible medical calamities; natural disasters and acts of a vengeful god; exciting adventures involving unicorns and glitter; travels to exotic locals, culinary experiments that resulted in indescribable bliss, pilgrimages to religious shrines where I experienced a miraculous cure for my lifelong chronic athlete’s foot; or that I’ve finally managed to sleep late. Because who cares, right?

I also haven’t been too busy checking my Facebook page hourly to be sure I take the latest stupid test to find out what kind of musical instrument/kitchen implement/implantable medical device/Harry Potter character, or terminal disease I am. Because the internets are the only path to self-discovery through a dozen multiple choice questions yo. Nor have I been too busy reading posts by people who bloviate about something positively banal (or worse, christian extremism or political folly) and then say “share if you agree”. I do admit I’ve spent some time trying to decide which bothers me more, and instead have concluded that, sadly, I have only myself to blame that my FB page is cluttered with such crap because my choice of FB friends has been a bit indiscriminate and over-hasty. Sadly, herein art imitates life.

More importantly, I  decline to succumb to what I’ve seen so many bloggers do when they revive a dormant blog: whinge about how my recent life has sucked  - as if people might possibly give a shit or send me virtual hugs and relevant googled motivational quotes of which I would otherwise remain woefully ignorant.

It’s none of that. It’s NSA, people. They may be on to me. I think they may know what I had for breakfast (despite the fact that I swallowed the last bite as I finished the previous paragraph, and I already can’t remember what was on the plate). I fear that NSA may have discovered my secret identity, or my embarrassing sexual fetishes that involve plush toys and organic produce, or worse, my real weight.

So I’ve been hiding in my fallout shelter – or whatever the kids are calling bunkers today – reading back issues of The Paris Review and eating bloated cans of spaghetti-Os and hoping I’ll drop off the NSA radar and that my latest flare-up of paranoia will subside. Either that or I’ve been in rehab after one too many drunken blackouts where I awoke next to a dead hooker wearing a bloodstained clown costume, and lost the costume rental deposit because I didn’t use my Oxy-pen soon enough to remove the blood. And don't think I'm stupid enough to commit to the internets which one of us was wearing the clown costume.

Or maybe, - just maybe - I’ve evolved. I’ve taken my own advice that the virtual world is a pale shadow of the real world and I’d rather inhabit the 3-D world and enjoy the clover while I still can. 
Maybe I’ve found my inner deity and reconnected with the earth. 

Or maybe (and frankly, more likely)  I’ve had my medications adjusted to the point where I can actually garden a bit in nice weather without having to spend the night covered in flop-sweat while my pulse tops out at 145 before subsiding enough to let me sleep.

Maybe, I’ve decided that blathering online about my life is narcissistic and self-defeating. Maybe I've concluded that I could be enjoying an actual life in the real world, while the virtual world continues its plummet to hell without me.

( Title Credit: Lewis Carroll. Illustration credit: Yuji Kamozawa)