Monday, September 22, 2008
Marbles and flowers
I was finishing up teaching a cooking class the other night when I get a text from my wine goddess. "I'm making you dinner!" it says. This might not seem so strange but to put this into context, in the time we've been together, there has only been one other occasion I can remember when these particular words have ever been strung together and uttered from her lips.
No. Scratch that. It was a lunch she made me that time. I had never heard these words before.
To further contextualize the moment, imagine you were with a chef and you were deciding what to make them for dinner. No one wants to cook for me save for my best friend and, to be fair, the wine goddess and I both work nights, rendering dinner together rare in the first place. When we do have a night off I'm more than happy to whip something up or go out.
I'm actually, surprisingly, easy to please. I love a simple grilled cheese sandwich and some tomato soup. I love pasta. I swoon over everyday things, like mac and cheese and anything grilled. Just throw a steak on the grill for a minute and I'm perfectly happy. Cheese, bread, tomatoes, steak, pasta.... none of it I can eat right now. However, now is when the wine goddess decides to make me dinner. "You're getting too skinny!" she says, "I need to DO something!" It's such a sweet gesture that I rush home excited to be cooked for, happy to sit down and let her serve me a meal.
On the top step of our landing, I smell the food of my ancestors: chicken in a broth, carrot, celery...a touch of... but wait, what is that? Something Indian? Floral?
I walk in the front door and a moment before I hear her voice I see a wooden spoon standing straight up out of our small pot on the stove. Like a funereal chopstick defying the laws of gravity, it seems to signal something ominous. "I think I screwed up the rice!" she yells down the hall.
My wine goddess is a walking encyclopedia of all things grape, music, and pop culture. She can sing like an angel, charm the pants off anyone and do a mean Cher impersonation.
A cook she is not.
This is not to say she hasn't mastered a few things in her time here on earth: popcorn, fried eggs, bacon, toast and a strong cup of coffee are her culinary calling cards. When she cooks, she cooks by feel. She loathes directions and poo-poos recipes. She moves through life lifting her nose to the wind and sniffing out her next move. I use the word "sniffing" in strictly a metaphorical sense as allergies leave her actual sniffer at times compromised.
Times such as now.
When she noticed that the rice seemed bland and mushy, intuition moved her to my spice wall, where magnets hold little containers of unlabeled spices with see-through windows so that I can identify what it is I'm grabbing for. The bright color of turmeric caught her eye and several tablespoons made their way into the cooked rice, garishly transforming it before her eyes. Not entirely satisfied, she reached for what she thought might be thyme (but she's not entirely sure). "This will teach you to LABEL your spices!" she teasingly scolds me later. As a final flourish, she added a pinch of my truffle salt and hoped for the best. That's when I walked in the door.
We sit down to eat and I'm grinning from ear to ear, touched by her obvious love and effort. On our plates: baked chicken legs with sage, steamed broccoli, carrots and celery. I'm forcing back a smile at the sight of the rice, a yellow beacon of a pile, heaped up high against its chicken fence. It takes all of the love in my heart to swallow my bite of rice down. In that long moment from pulling it off the fork (no easy task) to my hard swallow I realized a few things. First, she doesn't have ANY rice on her plate. Second, it dawns on me what that overwhelming floral scent is. The "thyme" she thought was thyme was lavender. Lots of it.
What does Turmeric and Lavender rice taste like? Imagine eating ground marbles and dirt mixed with soap and flowers. I can't help but think the analogy rivals some of her most esoteric wine descriptions. I offer her a small bite. She forcefully shakes her head, smiles and says, "HELL no!"
at 10:20 PM