Flour, sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla. They smile when you reach for them and place them on the table. We are ready to go, they announce with glee, welcome back, rejoice, you’re baking!
Indeed I am. The kitchen is my oyster. The oven is preheating, the pan is carefully buttered. The music is playing, the haze of comforting numbness is softening the impact of reality, the one that stings.
You are gone, and you and you and you.
I inhale the scent of cinnamon. Cakes don’t betray you. They will rise and perfume the air, be soft and tender and warm. They will taste like that is all you need to carry on. And sometimes it is.
Beat me, scare me, bite me, slap me, torture me, o unpredictable life.
I slip into my happy place and the aroma is marvelous.
The frigid, messy white stuff serves no purpose (unlike rain).
Probably one of the punishments we are to expect regularly from the heavens, for our less than exemplary behavior. Sure, I will recite the mea culpa to that, but I will rise in fury every time the New York’s blue sky fades into that threatening light gray to white.
Nothing but the ghostly sheet of death on our lawns, our streets, accumulating copiously on our parked cars, creating a forbidding wasteland.
Can’t go out – work, shopping, whatever – because unless you have one of those monsters SUVs (that regularly block your vision of the road when you’re driving, so hate that) with all-wheel, 4-wheel, or whatever the hell it’s called, drive, you take your life in your hands if you venture out.
Sure, there will be the show-offs who’ll say no big deal to drive in the snow, you just need to know how to do it, take control, yada yada blah blah blah. Not buying it, people. They are probably more terrified than me but prefer to look brave and take their chances. But it’s their call.
So I stay home. I pour a glass of wine, put on a warm sweater, then my pretty apron (from my small collection, yes, I’m a sucker for designer aprons), and sharpen my chef’s knife. And butter my Bundt pan, measure flour, sugar and cocoa, pull out a juicy onion from the fridge and a bottle of golden extra-virgin olive oil.
Dinner and dessert on the way.
Live in your kitchen, my friends, when life is inclement!
The blows, small and enormous, are always lurking, malevolent, behind the corner. You fend them off as best as you can, you toughen up, reject useless tears that solve nothing, swallow your pride, ignore the unfair words, then shut up altogether because it’s best. Sure, the restlessness is still churning inside your heart, the endless worrying corroding your soul, but you take a two-second Zen moment, simply to keep the peace. I choose my battles thoughtfully, dear friends, and so should you.
I also choose the kitchen as my refuge. My trusty iPhone and the Echo partner up to provide the musical background, as eclectic as my personality.
Melt the butter with coffee and chocolate, stir the thick, velvety mixture, inhale the heady scent, let it cool, while you sift the dry ingredients into a pretty stoneware pistachio-green bowl. The little things matter. Perhaps more than the big ones. They keep you sane, steady on the path of the life that was handed to you, the one you didn’t select because you didn’t know what the hell you were doing. Sure, we live for others (all women, mothers, do), so we try to keep the crazy to a minimum. Calm and nurturing, selfless and immune to hurt feelings.
But it’s all good.
I have a kitchen, apples, freshly ground cardamom, sweet butter and a batterie de cuisine to rival a Parisian pâtissier, and thousands of wondrous recipes in cherished cookbooks (or on Google). Or, mostly, in the treasure grove that is my memories and my imagination.
I suffer ergo I cook.
Sure, go skiing, o adventurous ones, just watch those trees.
Long live Bundt pans, cardamom and bittersweet chocolate!
The sun is warming the land and our hearts, easily melting the remains of snow scattered on our lawns. The air is mild, gentle, the sky is an intense blue, smiling down on our earth, bursting with the promise of new hope.
The birds are settling, once again, on the trees’ bare branches, tentative, quivering with the fresh joy of a new beginning. Could it be? Early spring for us all? Perhaps.
In the heart of dreary winter, a winter that has lasted for longer that we ever expected, this break in the dark scatters the thrills of rebirth, as we all leap toward the future that looks gloomy no more.
Free and light I feel, young and powerful. I close my eyes and surrender to the caress of this Janu
ary sunshine, linger in its welcoming embrace.
Yes, the sun also rises and conquers the fears of the darkest night.
Bursting with energy, I pull ingredients out of pantry and fridge, exuberant. Which cake should I make, Apple, Almond Paste, Pound, chocolate? And my pappardelle await the sausage ragù that is in the works, because the good parmigiano I got, the golden olive oil and the desire to cook with renewed joy and relief.
Oh what a magnificent January day it is, summer in winter, fresh air to sweep away the decay of old, dirty snow.
The world is alive again. Live your life, you good people, raise your eyes to the sky and marvel at the splendor of deep turquoise, limpid and pure once again.
My New Year’s Day dinner: Roasted Pork tenderloin with a hint of rosemary, Lentils from Modena, Green Beans with parmigiano reggiano and butter, Assorted mushrooms, including porcini, Mashed potatoes with heavy cream.
And to end my Italian meal…Puerto Rican Coquito. Delicious.
To do better? To make up for errors past? To turn your life into the coveted tabula rasa?
Valuable thoughts, but not happening. Over and over again, we flawed
mortals go on repeat more times that we wish to admit, because, damn it, we just don’t know what in bloody hell to do.
Oh the idealistic dreams that we launched into the embrace of the promising sky…and which boomeranged back soiled and broken and pathetic.
Resolutions are made to be stepped on, as the harshness of reality gains the reins, and we continue on the path of routine, duty, and our ‘quiet desperation’.
But we are resilient.
We delete our thoughts of loss and doom, slam the door in their face, reject the tears too painful to be shed, and move on to the basics, boring, comforting, numbing.
Hail to the kitchen where magic happens daily! Pull out that flour and eggs and spices and wine! Labor, create, allow the music to energize your faltering soul.
I love the holidays, when everything glitters, even broken hearts.
Lost in the past that will forever haunt us, become young again, a child perhaps, see Christmas, New Year’s, the Epiphany, as you saw them then, when the world was wondrous.
I breathe in the scents of almond paste, cinnamon, honey, as my hands swiftly shape pastries and cookies, turn humble ingredients into little masterpieces to brighten our souls, albeit temporarily.
Revel in the joys of food memories, re-live them as you work your way to the place that doesn’t hurt.
Here they are, my friends, my sweet labors of love, rich, aromatic Cassata, possibly my favorite dessert of all, my true dream of sugarplums; the Struffoli that mean Christmas, a necessary presence on this day of glory. Hundreds of cookies, spiced, subtle, chocolaty and not. Mostaccioli, adored cookies of my Italian childhood, thick and spiced with the flavors of Southern Italy, luxuriously glazed in bittersweet chocolate.
God bless the holidays, the kitchen, the flavors of our temps perdu.