Weddings, Women, Sweets, and Wishes

Still life of a white cake on a blue tablecloth, messy painting, warm colors. My heirloom cookbook was born during a Washington D.C. snowstorm in February of what was then called “The Year 2000,” in my final months of singlehood before I was to be married in July. That storm barely registers in the city’s memory now: it was neither the Blizzard of 1996, with its eight-foot-high snowbanks, 2003’s freak President’s Day storm, nor was it the incomparable Snowmageddon of 2010 (which I wrote about on Good Letters).

However, the storm in 2000 was significant enough—knee-high drifts under a gunmetal sky and the threat of more on the way—that work was cancelled for two days, and my roommate Paula and I lounged around the apartment filled with snow-glare-white light, drinking wine, ordering pizza (somehow Domino’s still delivered), and watching the first season of Survivor with her boyfriend Johan, who had crashed at our place for the fun.

The second night we were housebound, Paula—a tall, raven-haired engineer originally from Bogotá—announced that she was going to bake a cake. Not just any cake—I, for one, was raised on Betty Crocker—but her Colombian grandmother’s homemade white cake. She went into the kitchen, and once she ascertained that, amazingly, we did have the many eggs and flour and baking powder and mountains of sweet cream butter required, began to separate eggs with the acumen she brought to technical drawing.

Paula beat a sweet yellow cake batter that, once it was poured carefully into floured cake pans, smelled high and sugary in the heat of the oven. The remaining egg whites she beat into thick stiff peaks, to which she added sugar until she’d beat a glossy meringue frosting—her grandmother Sophia’s treasured batido blanco—that held its shape when twirled with the back of a spoon. Once the layers were out of the oven and safely cooled, she sandwiched a layer of jam between them, and spread this thick luxuriant icing all across the top.

We ate. And we ate and we ate and we ate. I have had wonderful cakes in my time, but never one as purely delicious as this. It amazes me that the tight bodice of my ivory jacquard wedding dress still zipped up so easily at the next fitting, the skirt snug over foamy layers of tulle. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “The Embrace”

piano-by-Ralf-Nolte-on-flickrPoetry can recall us to the sensuousness of ordinary experience. Elizabeth Smither does this in “The Embrace” through the pointed choice of particular details. We are invited into a room in which almost nothing is happening, yet the room fills with sumptuously imaged life: two pianos which seem to be playing (though literally they’re not); two people leaning joyously into each other; a meal appearing in all its lusciously itemized dishes. All of this takes place in only two sentences—for it’s in the dashes that Smither makes the poem work. Each pair of dashes holds within it an instant of event, while holding still the surrounding objects. What these dashes manage to do, I’d say, is hold aloft the simultaneity of music and meal and human embrace. The poem leaves me feeling richer, yet also wondering what rich details I’m missing in each moment of my own experience.

-Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Eat the Delicious Earth

2440065352_c094834b71_zA year ago, I started cooking and learning how to prepare and love food in new ways. How to spend time with it, think about how it comes apart and together, how it draws lines back to heritage and times when I loved my insides, when love had all kinds of ungraspable meanings.

I’m lucky to have a family that taught me that food was pleasure, that if you ate for nutrition only, one day you’d return your carotids to the good Lord, who’d spread them with his mighty hands, inspect their immaculate insides, and ask what on that delicious earth you’d done with your life.

Paella. Extra saffron for the vermilion color that makes me think of mercuric sulfide. Pretend poison. The coral threads were a gift, and I have to use it up before it’s useless, conserved and tasteless.

Chorizo, the fat and fiber melding with the lush gore of the battle scenes on Game of Thrones as I eat late at night, until I have to throw the rest away. Green and red bell peppers; when I had a regular salary, I’d chop off the top and throw it away; now that I freelance, I cut carefully around the stem. [Read more…]

The Vegan at Our Chicken Slaughter

16658905467_1f9132c3f0_zA few years ago, we invited the newest neighbor in our rural intentional Christian community to help us slaughter the chickens we had raised for meat.

Our neighbor told us about his guest up the hill; he was visiting from the city and he was a strict ethical vegan. Our neighbor warned his vegan friend, whom I will call Tim, what would be happening down the hill that afternoon. So early that morning, Tim visited the doomed fowl and blessed them before death.

I appreciated such a blessing on our chickens. Blessings over animals before slaughter have been part of animal killing in many traditional societies. Some Native American tribes would ask for forgiveness for taking the life of the animal and then offer thanks for the provision of its life for sustenance.

When he was in West Africa serving in the Peace Corps, my husband participated in the killing of an animal during a festival. In keeping with Beninese tradition, he offered the animal a sip of water before he took its life, as a sign of respect. [Read more…]

After a Thanksgiving Feast

image-10I carry my failure with me. My embarrassment. My shame. It grows.

It sets me apart from men in my life, the hard man with the violin, the thin man with the flask. See them in the photo. They have enough, more than enough. If one day they leave a little, the next they put less on their plate.

My life? Apparently, the sustaining belief is this: never enough. Never enough sweetness. Never enough love. Never enough, so I surround myself with more. More than I’ll ever consume. Not enough hours in life to read as many pages as are packed onto floor-to-ceiling shelves. And if there were, what then? [Read more…]