Cooking remains one of life’s greatest pleasures, at least for me. I do sometimes just wash my hands of it and succumb to the lure of frozen pizza. The ease of ripping open the cardboard box, making sure to check the manufacturer’s cooking instructions – they’re not all the same, are they? – then slicing open the plastic vacuum-wrapped circle of a cousin to cardboard, yes, that can be a bit of a joy, too.
When it comes to so-called real cooking, meaning hands-on wrestling with the unprocessed fruits of Mother Nature, I find it to be a very meditative act. Take cracking green beans, a job I’ll confess to disliking a fair bit. But sitting at the kitchen table, or counter if that’s all you have, topping and tailing dozens of long green cylinders takes on a sort of rhythm. Like shelling fresh peas, which I’ve only done a couple of times in quantity, it goes faster and more enjoyably when in the company of another. And that right there is an example of how we humans are social animals.
Playing cards or bingo or board games, quilting, going to the movie theater and munching a huge barrel of popcorn, crowding together in a booth and swilling several pitchers of beer – this list could go on and on of the things I’ve taken for granted all my life.
Learning to be solitary is not an easy path, but necessary for now. I’ve been returning to some books I read long ago. (See list at the end of this post.)
I baked brownies on Day 6. Instead of the usual 9 x 13-inch pan, I decided to try making this rare delicacy – at least in my house – last a bit longer. And so I opted for an 11 x 15-inch sheet pan. That worked very well. Thinner brownies, true, but more of them, prolonging the deliciousness.
The telephone rang just as I bit into the test bite – always the cook’s perk, right? Swallowing a crumb hanging on my upper lip, I heard my son’s voice.
“Mom, it looks like A. might have the virus.” A. is his wife. And she’s been working 14 hours a day in a large retail store, an essential business.
“What are her symptoms?” I asked, chilled to the bone although it’s 82°F outside.
“Fever of 103, cough, and she feels terrible all over.”
I held my breath for a minute. He continued, saying “One of the managers tested positive for the virus.”
“She’s going to have a teleconference on Monday to see if she needs to be tested,” he said, his voice shaking as it did in the past, when he was a little boy facing some scary unknown.
“Well, I’ll let you know what happens. Love you, Mom,” he whispered. “I need to go the grocery store, but I know I shouldn’t go,” he added.
“Love you, too. What do you need? We’ll bring some extras over, leave them in the driveway and honk to let you know we’re there.”
So now we wait.
Back home, I did the only thing I could: I cooked. To distract myself, to get lost in the moment. Even just for a few moments.
Pork chops, with those green beans I’d topped and tailed.
It wasn’t not the prettiest plate I’ve ever cooked up. But the sauce – let’s call it Refrigerator Sauce – came from several bits left over from previous meals. Taking a few pages from M. F. K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, I decided to mix the caper sauce from Chicken Piccata, a melted cheese dip, a few tablespoons of sour cream lurking at the bottom of its container, some chopped cilantro otherwise well on its way to the garbage can, a dash of water, and dried herbes de Provence, enlivened with some chopped onion and garlic. Browned 2 pork chops and the onion/garlic in my Instant Pot, dumped in the above mentioned ingredients, and cooked on slow cooker setting for a while, then added potatoes and green beans.
Not too bad, actually.
It wouldn’t win a James Beard award, but James might have liked it.
And one more thing happened on Day 6, aside from the increasingly horrifying statistics coming out of Italy.
Grabbing onto every bit of hope for the future, we planted those six azalea bushes we bought the other day. They should bloom in the future we want to believe is still coming.
Books I’m revisiting at this time – note that all are available on Kindle:
At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life, by Fenton Johnson
Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton
Solitude: A Return to the Self, by Anthony Storr