I recently read a very inspiring and thought provoking piece over at Buffalo Schnitzel that explores living a life of delayed gratification. (And she talks a lot about asparagus, one of my favorite veggies!) You should definitely go check it out. Her post got my motor running and, of course, it got me thinking about my grandmother…
Days with my grandma folded up like closet linens. Making beds, doing laundry, dusting, cooking meals, a preserving housework that was simple and slow, crisp and clean. Bent on a purpose to keep her house tidy and full, she would drag her wooden stool into the front room, climb its steps and pull down her sheer lace curtains to be washed and air dried in the backyard. Her knobby knuckles dipped them up and down in the warm soapy water, gently wrung them out and clipped them to the clothes line out back where I sat and picked onion grass to season my mud cakes. They billowed up in the breeze as a royal canopy, coronating her hard work. As she clipped and I plucked, the open windows of the little brick house perfumed the air with her poached chicken that was inside simmering on the stove. Sitting in a folding chair with a bowl in her lap, she picked a couple of pounds of green beans to go with dinner and a butter cake cooled on the table. No one was coming over. Grandad sat inside watching football in the den waiting for her to call him in to dinner when it was time. The day was beautiful because that’s what she made it–and she gave it to us. When we ate at the table on floral plates and served ourselves her chicken and gravy, beans and butter cake, next to her clean white curtains, we absorbed her. We felt important and loved. Her simple work decorated us. Her fussing filled us. Her tiredness gave us energy. And it gratified her. Every day was the same. The same little house. The same beds to be made. The same linens to fold. The same child to wash. A life lived for others.
I remember when my grandmother taught me how to poach a chicken. She cut the wet bald bird out of its tight wrapper and it slid into the sink, as if a baby born from an amniotic sack. New life. Picking up it’s legs, she made it dance to her da-da-daas before scrubbing it with water and a sponge, getting me to laugh at the bird bath. She reached her hand up through the bird’s fanny and pulled out various organs: a neck, a heart, a gizzard, a liver, but probably none of its own. Maybe they were all from the chickens who she pecked with up until they were all slaughtered. Friends even in death. Friends even in gravy, where the organs were all headed. But actually, there was no head. “Where are its eyes and beak, grandma?” “They ringed its neck off right about here,” grandma explained as she whirled her arm around in a violent circle, demonstrating the snapping of a bird’s neck to her little granddaughter who laughs at a naked bird’s dance. The water was seasoned with salt, pepper, celery, carrots, onions, and garlic before grandma lowered her down into the big, boiling pot, where she steeped for a good hour or so. Simmering and bubbling, the bird’s nakedness turned tender and sweet, savory and juicy, a real prize for all of our efforts at preparing her. Easing her out of the pot onto a platter, her bones fell out of their joints and her meat held loosely under her skin. Grandma gently arranged the chicken soaked vegetables around her, an edible arrangement of condolences and thanks, delicious when dipped in gizzard and neck gravy. After squeezing a halved lemon, drizzling olive oil and sprinkling salt over her skin, one last burial rite, we sat together at the kitchen table with her and said a thankful prayer. A life given. And we ate.
Walks around the neighborhood – mind clearing
A fast crawling baby
A closing semester with lots of grading and coffee
Piles of laundry
A boys’ room and Christmas decorations that still need to be put away
Cooking – more mind clearing
Dead house plants
A flourishing garden
Boys doing girly things
After school with the neighbor kids
My afternoon lie in the grass – still more mind clearing
I make a lot of bread. Actually, I do quite a bit of cooking in general, but having homemade bread in the oven seems to root me to something bigger than myself. I’m not just consuming, I’m actually creating. And even though it’s something small and insignificant, I made it, just as thousands of others have done before me. And really, nothing beats a crackling crust and a soft crumb. So, I make a lot of bread.
The thing is, I don’t spend a lot of time making bread. I don’t kneed. I don’t proof. I don’t spend all that much time in the kitchen. Years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The title is a bit kitschy, but it really is true. By making a very wet dough that uses a bit more yeast, it takes no time at all. The book has a few editions and variations, but they all have delicious recipes, and the overall concept is the same. You add and mix your ingredients, let it rise, bake what you want to use, refrigerate the rest of the dough to use later, and voila. Homemade bread.
I’m not trying to sell you the book, though the book is awesome, but I’m inviting you to slow down for a second. Maybe think about how cooking isn’t just an act of consumption, but an act of creating. I get a little overwhelmed throughout my day thinking about how much my family and I consume, so it’s nice to slow down once and a while (even for just 5 minutes a day!) and create something. Poetry. Art. Photographs. Music. Bread. Clothes. Plants. Something that fills our bellies, hearts, minds, and souls. Bringing beauty to our world, in the smallest of ways. For me, it’s freeing. It’s life giving. Mindlessly consuming starts to wear on me and mixing that dough, letting it rise and sitting it on my counter gives me a little purpose in my day and grounds me back to my family and home. It’s a beautiful thing. I think that’s why I created this writing space for myself. To write and create, yes, but also to be read. There’s a circle in creating because what we create needs to also be consumed by others. We cook so that others will eat. We write so that others will read. We paint so that others will see. We compose and play music so that others will hear. We sew clothes so that others will wear. It’s a pattern, a circle. One that we are a part and must contribute to. And that’s why it’s important to create and not just consume. Make this world diverse and unique by filling it with yourself and offering it to others. I can’t wait to see what you make.