Orange Chips and Brittle Behaviour

Tonight I sat in a sound bath. 

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My day had started at 6 a.m and continued as a whirlwind of frantic motions and looming PMS-like symptoms. Breakfast was so long ago I can barely remember it. When I had my first break at 5, I ate dinner alone, as usual. I had french fries and mayo for dinner with a side of crudités. I scanned through emails with my right hand while eating with my left. I sipped on an Old Fashioned I had made myself using a special ingredient. 

With ten minutues to spare, I zipped across the street to the Arts and Hertiage Centre, where the event was being held. I was asked to bring a cake. I made it yesterday, knowing today would be non-stop. Yesterday, I garnished the cake with some orange slices I cut finely using the mandolin (that is, I lay the slices down on parchment at the bottom of the cake pan with the intention to un-mould  and flip it over to serve).  I had extra slices so I put them in a pot with water and sugar. I thought: maybe they'll be marmalade or maybe an orange-infused simple syrup. Then I made the cake batter. Meanwhile, as the simple syrup bubbled, the slices maintained their shape and became vibrant and so I changed the plan.

After they had simmered a while and the pith began looking translucent, I pulled the slices out. One by one with a fork, I sieved off the excess liquid and lay them on a cooling rack. I put the rack in the oven after the cake came out. I turned the oven off immediately. 

The next morning (this morning) after I ran about a while, I came home quickly to check on the oranges. I had dared not open the oven lest some residual heat be let out. Still a bit soft. I turned the oven to the lowest it would go and checked on them every half hour until it had been about 2 hours. I cooled them as I went out to do more errands. They became beautiful crispy orange 'chips'. By evening, they were bitter and slightly sweet and just lovely with my Old Fashioned. 

I finished my cocktail and headed back out.  I arrived at the sound bath and put the goodies aside. I found a space on the floor in the dark room, where 15 others lay on their yoga mats and covering themselves with blankets. I sat against the wall, on the wood floor, with no blanket. 

The instructor began to make sounds using her quartz crystal bowls - though I could't be sure how (my eyes were closed). With the first note she made, I imagined the colour red. The sound changed and I felt intuitively it was yellow.  We were asked to think of a word and we were gently reminded this is the time of year for making goals. I had had a hard day working with my mother.  It was my fault things didn't go smoothly. The word "gentle" came to my mind. It was a purple word. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I have a strong aversion to purple. 

I am not gentle. I would like to think I am full of love. I'd like to think I am graceful. I am intuitive. I see beauty where others don't. I am in awe of the world often. I am caring.

But I am not gentle. 

I spent a long time trying to clear my mind and work on my breathing and I did try to be "present". Instead, I fought with my racing mind. By the end, I just wanted to go home and eat chips in bed. 

What made my head spin was thinking: treat others how you want to be treated.  I know that my aggressiveness stems from working in kitchens for over 15 years. I realized most people (e.g. my mom) want and need to be treated gently. I realized I have a difficult time remembering that because I do not want to be treated gently. 

What problem do I have with being gentle? I realized tonight that I look down on those I think are "soft". Where does this hostility come from? It would be easy if I could blame genetics; I am so much like my dead Grandmother, or so I've been told. (She was cold, mean and firm and I always got along with her swimmingly.) I'd rather be told, "Sweep that area at 5pm" rather than, "If you could, if you wouldn't mind, would you please sweep at some point in the evening?". I don't see one as more kind than the other, but my mother would. 

Ironically, I feel like I am being censored when I have to use more words to say something that I would feel more comfortable saying in fewer. Maybe it 's that I feel gentleness is: false, a lie, deceitful, phoney and a waste of time. It skirts around the issue. It isn't clear or to the point. It is just padding for the truth. It implies shame in asking for something. 

My mother would probably call me terse and imply it as something I should be ashamed of. It means clear and neat. Those are things I would take pride in. In busy kitchens, it's necessary to demand a number of things that need to happen without wasting time explaining them. In an interview, I would call my way of working efficient. 

I've often wondered if I have a slightly autistic brain, or in other words, if I'm "on the spectrum". I have a hard time following social norms and I often misunderstand body language and misread facial cues. I hurt other people, including my mother, with my sharp attitude. I'm not a flowery person. I'm full of spurs. 

So this new year, 2018, my word is : Gentle. 

Don't treat me gently, I don't like it. It confuses me and irritates me. However, I don't have to treat other people as I want to be treated. I should treat other people how THEY want to be treated. I will try my hardest to remember that other people feel more comfortable when I smile as I talk; when I speak slowly and end my sentences with a higher intonation; I will be aware of my facial expressions and try not to furrow my brow or clench my jaw.  I will stand with open body language and rest my face while listening even if I think there is no time for human behaviour I can't wrap my head around.  I will try to be gentle. 

I will continue to feed people. Food is a language I do speak. Try an orange chip:  They are bitter , brittle and delicious. 

Mex I Can

I feel like for my entire childhood, my mother was in the kitchen.

When we got home at four, we dropped our knapsacks at the door and plopped down on the couch, brain dead from a long day at school.  This was before remote controls, so one of us would squat with our face two inches from the screen and turn the dial while the other would whine, " No, go back! That one". Mom didn't interfere or take sides. She let us sort it out, but we both knew she was she was there, in the kitchen, listening.

Most days, Mom would bring us an after school snack. It was usually 'soldiers' (a peanut butter and jam sandwich cut into four long rectangles) or cheese and crackers. She probably put cucumber and carrot sticks on the plate too...but I don't remember. 

When we spread out our books and paper on the dining room table, Mom was cooking dinner in the next room. We would holler our questions and she would holler back answers. If we called her ("mmmaaaaaaaam"), she would leave her cooking and come help. 

Dinner was difficult for Mom. My sister liked cheese and hot dogs and was pretty fussy. I was a self-declared vegetarian from the age of seven, and my dad was the pickiest. I don't remember watching him eat. I remember my mom having small portions. I remember sitting across from my sister and making faces. The big square table where we sat down to dinner was too big to kick my sister under the table (though I'm sure we tried). 

If we had food left on our pates, Mom would divide the plate and tell us to choose a side and eat it. If we still couldn't, Dad would tell us we were not allowed any cereal or snacks later and that if we were hungry, we would have to finish our plate. 

When we had finished, it was custom (and required of us) to say, " Thank you for the lovely meal. May I please be excused?". We said it every night for my entire childhood and into my teens. 

In high school, Mom worked, so we got home before her. We'd drop our knapsacks with a thud and plop in front of the TV. She would get home, take off her coat and march on ahead to the kitchen. I remember being upset that she didn't take off her shoes when she got home. It never occurred to me she was in a hurry because she was racing against the clock of hungry growing hormonal teens.  It never occurred to me to get dinner started. I would look in the fridge and there would be "nothing to eat" and she'd open it up, spend an hour cooking/pulling rabbits out of hats and would always offer us a (healthy and satisfying) feast. 

Towards the end of high school, I would sit on the barstool at the end of the kitchen counter and watch her cook. 

When we had eaten everything on our plates and were ready to leave the table, we would thank our mom for dinner - often in unison. 

Now, in my 30s, I live alone. I work during the day and when I get home I'm exhausted. But what do I do? I march on ahead to the kitchen with my shoes still on and dive into making dinner.  

Cooking for one is hard. It's hard to tell yourself you are special enough to fuss over. But you are. I am.

I have been craving Mexican. I can't eat onions, garlic, wheat tortillas, beans or dairy, so you can imagine making Mexican seem authentic and satisfying is a challenge. But I did it. 

Because of Mama.

She taught me that it is possible to whip something up from nothing if you're got the right momentum, vision and chutzpah. 

 

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P.S.

I did go to cooking school. Cooking school taught me the rules and techniques. Mama taught me how to love to cook, how to show others you care by cooking for them, how feeding people creates a deep bond, and that sharing food can be the greatest gift given or received. 

 

 

Two Sheds, Bread and Chocolate Truffle Pie

I painted two small sheds yesterday. I had been hired to do this project a month back but I am a novice and went too slow. The weather changed before I could finish painting all the grooves. Yesterday was warm, possibly 15 degrees Celsius, and I finished painting after 4 hours. 

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It was windy when I walked home. It seems my days usually end around 3pm; That's when the sun starts going down. That's when the weather changes. I realized I hadn't been thinking about anything all day. I was focused on painting and my mind was blank. It felt like my brain was calm water lapping inside my head. 

I slept at 9 and woke at midnight to start the arduous but incredibly pleasurable task of making a mass batch of bread. It doesn't take too much effort, but it does take time and attention. I talk to the dough. It helps. I'm sure of it. 

By 7 in the morning, the bread was out and cooling and I crept back upstairs to bed for a few hours.

Just after 11, I flew out the door, late for work, holding the earrings I intended on wearing. As I descended the stairs, I prodded my ear lobe with the hook and hit something. I was already wearing earrings.  

This evening, I made a chocolate pie from scratch and with no recipe. I am mourning the closure of Bar Italia. It was a restaurant - until a few months ago - on College Street in Toronto. My parents took us there before they divorced. It was simply where our family went if we were going out for supper.  Everyone always got the same thing except Mom, who always had a hard time deciding.  

There was a chocolate truffle cake on the menu. It could hardly be called a cake. I don't think it was baked and I don't think it had flour or leavening agents. It was always the same: perfect and insanely rich. The slice was only an inch thick and maybe 5 inches long. It sat on a plate alone or there may have been a raspberry coulis underneath. Our family shared that one dessert every time. 

I went on my first date there, with a guy who would eventually propose to me when I was 16. We both used fake i.d. I don't remember what I ate, but I know where we sat and the view I had of that room. That room is etched in my memory forever. 

Later, I got a job as a cook there. It was my third job ever. I never saw anyone make the chocolate truffle cake. Someone did it upstairs but I never saw who or when they made it. 

Tonight, I channelled Bar Italia and what I have learned about cooking since and I prepared two mini chocolate truffle pies. They are in a pie shells only because I had left over pie pastry. 

I cannot eat this pie, but I will savour the memories it holds. Tomorrow, I will give it to my mom and her partner, my stepdad, Trevor.